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Simple Presentation Tips (From Pure Fear to Natural Comfort)

5 min read
Aug. 19, 2013

Two years ago I was deathly afraid to stand in front of a crowd. In college, I avoided every single “on-stage” situation I could and almost failed a class because I was too scared to give a speech. It was downright embarrassing.

Flash forward to today and I’ve given over 25 professional talks, pitches, or facilitation sessions to public audiences.

Back of the napkin calculations have me speaking to thousands in live audiences and hundreds of thousands through video and “on-air” scenarios.

Some of my talks have bombed but others have helped my company win awards, participate in TechStars, get new customers, and strengthen community around our brand and purpose.

After a session this weekend at ProductCamp, a young lady complimented me on my presentation and asked my advice on getting comfortable with public speaking.

Here is what I shared:

1. The “Bruce Springsteen Perspective”

I listened to a story from Tony Robbins’ once. I’m going to paraphrase it here:

Tony was working with a female singer who was having a lot of trouble in front of a crowd. When asked what she was going through, this was her story:

When I’m about to go on stage, my heart starts racing, my palms start sweating and I get butterflies in my stomach. I start to get this startling sensation throughout my body through to my fingertips…and that’s when I know I’m having a panic attack.

Contrast this with an oddly similar tale. Bruce Springsteen told Tony when getting on stage:

When about to go live, my heart starts racing, my palms start sweating and I get butterflies in my stomach. I start to get this startling sensation throughout my body through to my fingertips…and that’s when I know I’m I’m excited and ready to rock the audience.

It’s self-explanatory, the mind is a powerful thing. Condition it to give good meaning to your senses and feelings.

2. Make the Absolute Commitment

When I started Salesloft, I knew for a fact, I wanted (needed) to get on stage to accomplish my goals. I remember personally dedicating the year of 2012 to be one in which I  overcame this fear. I talked about it with family and close friends. I made myself a personal guarantee to get on stage. This deep level of commitment enabled me to get started. I knew it would be a long road, but it was one I was dedicated to traveling.

3. Go to Toastmasters

It’s amazing to me how many people don’t know Toastmasters. This is a worldwide organization that acts as a breeding ground for fantastic speakers. I attended a half dozen Toastmasters events in early 2012. Through it, I was able to achieve a series of small wins that helped me build confidence for the larger opportunities. You can easily do the same.

4. Focus on your Calendar

It was critical for me to get talking opportunities on my schedule. The minute you know you want to speak publicly, just make a list of opportunities. Reach out to your network and share that you’d like an opportunity to speak. Apply to contests and pitch presentations, volunteer at community events and ask questions of speakers at events you attend. This is about getting you into a groove, building rhythm and cadence into accomplishing your presentation goals.

5. Watch great speakers

They’re all out there on the internet. Watch them. Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to hear folks like Tony Robbins, Colin Powell, Richard Branson, Marc Benioff, and many more. The cool thing is you can just type their name into YouTube to get started. The one I liked watching most for style was Gary Vaynerchuk, I even paraphrased a Vaynerchuk one-liner at a talk once and got a nice crowd reaction.

6. Get the Crowd Involved

It is extremely hard to talk to a wall of people. Ask questions early. If it’s a sales and marketing talk, ask who is in sales and who is in marketing. If it’s an entrepreneur event, you might ask who is B2B vs. B2C. Heck, I’ve even seen presenters ask the audience who already knows them.

Pro-tip: If you want people to participate, ask them to raise their hand and then raise yours at the same time. It’s amazing the difference when you start the motion your self.

7. Make “Your” Move

Before getting on stage, make a physical move that comforts you. Jason Freedman likens this to a basketball player’s free-throw rhythm and Tony Robbins calls it your power move. I personally like to rub my hands together quickly like I’m about to sit down to an ultimate dinner feast. It’s a familiar move and one that makes me feel like me. Find your move and you’ll find a state of confidence.

In the end, I had to make a decision: do the rewards of public speaking outweigh the time it takes to get comfortable and confident? Is overcoming fear worth the scars I’ll receive along the road?

The answer is absolutely yes. And I’d make a bet it’s the same way for you. Hit me up via email if you have any other tips or ways we can help each other get better.