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Have you ever had to deliver a presentation for a study or work project, and been confronted with anxiety and a lack of confidence? If so, you're not alone. According to a New Zealand study, a fear of public speaking - also known as 'glossophobia' - is one of the most common forms of performance anxiety.1 In fact, it's believed 75% of the world's population suffers from this fear.2
While it's a common concern among students and professionals alike, it doesn't have to be.
Vinay Iswar CA is Managing Director for Accounting at IT consulting firm OneHQ, as well as an experienced presenter and growth coach. Vinay is passionate about helping his clients and fellow accounting and finance professionals find new ways to improve their ways of work, including growing one's confidence to improve presentation performance.
Here, we tap into his expertise to learn about the art of giving a strong presentation in-person or online.
1. Frame your speech as a story
A good public speaker takes their audience on a journey, and captures the hearts and minds of their audience.3
Vinay encourages students and accounting and finance professionals to approach their speeches and presentations like telling a story to capture their audience's attention.
"You have to be comfortable with what you're offering or what you're presenting. If you know your content, it's more like storytelling and it's more compelling," he says.
"Anyone can tell a good story; just think back to when you last told your friends about an amazing holiday you've been on. If you treat your speech like an engaged conversation rather than being too rehearsed, your audience will be more engaged with what you have to say, and you'll feel more confident in your delivery."
2. Authenticity is key
Vinay says it's not enough to know your content well, you also need to believe in it yourself.
"You must have a clear purpose and message. If your content is not genuine, if you don't believe in what you're saying or you are fifty-fifty on your topic, it's going to show to your audience," he explains.
Vinay says that instead of trying to come off as being confident and 'faking it til you make it', the key to delivering a great presentation is authenticity.
"It's important to just be yourself. Anyone who's ever had to speak in front of a crowd or to an audience online will understand it is challenging. If you lose your spot when presenting, there's nothing wrong with being honest and going, "I'm sorry, I just lost my place. Let me start again.'"
3. Practise your body language
When you want to deliver a presentation with confidence, it's important to remember practice makes perfect.
Reading your notes aloud, and practising your body language, eye contact and facial expressions in front of a mirror or a small group of friends or family members can help increase your presentation comfort level and give you the feedback you need.
"You can't see yourself when performing onstage, so you have to gauge the audience's reaction to see if you're doing well or not. Body language is everything, even when you are sitting in a room and delivering a virtual presentation," he says.
Speaking from his experience presenting to his staff and at conferences, Vinay says it's important to pay attention to your physical habits when presenting because actions like fidgeting can reveal your nerves to your audience.
"Avoid doing distracting things like clicking a pen or crossing your legs because your audience will see that you're feeling nervous. Instead, practise positive body language in the mirror, such as standing up straight with your shoulders back and feet shoulder width apart. Allow your hands to make natural hand gestures and don't forget to breathe."
"You must have a clear purpose and message. If your content is not genuine, if you don't believe in what you're saying or you are fifty-fifty on your topic, it's going to show to your audience."
4. Engage your audience
Vinay also encourages students and professionals to find ways to engage with their audience while presenting.
Making it more personal and conversational through direct eye contact during in-person presentations, or encouraging interactivity by asking the audience questions that they can reply to on online platforms and chat groups gives them the opportunity to engage with you and what you are saying rather than just listening passively. Encouraging audience participation through exercises and activities will also make you feel as though you're being heard.
"We used to talk about 'capturing' the audience's attention but that's an outdated approach. Today, it's about how you get your audience 'involved' in your presentation as early on as possible," Vinay says.
"Asking simple questions like 'who agrees with me?' or splitting the audience up into two groups to illustrate a point, are two great techniques to get your audience involved, and help to make you feel confident that your thoughts are being validated," he says.
5. Strive to do your best and you will succeed
It's important to know that feeling anxious or being nervous before a presentation is completely normal. Instead of being hard on yourself when you make a mistake, treat it as a learning curve and remember that you are the one in control of sharing your message with your audience.
Vinay encourages students and professionals to focus on the positives of each presentation they give, and give themselves credit for putting in the time and effort required to prepare and deliver a powerful message.
"Each time you present in front of an audience, the more comfortable you will become with delivering a clear message that entertains and educates."
Note: After this interview was conducted, Vinay has since become the Managing director of Betterco.
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