If you lack confidence in yourself when making presentations, our talent doctor Rob Yeung offers three techniques that you can apply to make a better impression
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This article was first published in the July/August 2017 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
I often coach managers, entrepreneurs and other individuals who want to be more compelling when giving presentations – whether that’s to colleagues, clients or other audiences. Whether you need to sell a product or promote an idea, being able to present well is unfortunately one of several key business skills that is rarely taught adequately at school or university. Sometimes, the structure of a presentation is the issue. I am going to focus here on people who lack confidence in themselves. There are three techniques you can apply to make a better impression when presenting.
Illusion of transparency. Many less confident individuals feel that their worries and feelings of anxiety are detectable by the audiences to which they are presenting. However, research shows that this is not the case. In fact, researchers have called this the illusion of transparency – the false belief that other people in a public setting can detect private feelings.
When you feel nervous, you may be very aware of the dryness in your throat or the sweatiness of your palms; you may have worries or self-critical thoughts swirling around inside your mind. However, the reality is that audiences cannot see the dryness of your throat, the clamminess of your hands or the negative thoughts in your head.
Research evidence shows that simply learning about this illusion of transparency can help people make a better impression when presenting. Psychological scientists Kenneth Savitsky at Williams College and Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University asked two groups of students to give impromptu three-minute presentations, which were video recorded. One group of students was taught about the illusion of transparency; the other was not.
All of the videos were shown to observers, who were not given further information about any of the presenters. However, the observers generally rated more highly the presenters who had been taught about the illusion of transparency.
So the next time you want to make a stronger impression when giving a speech or presentation, simply remind yourself of the illusion of transparency.
Practise sooner. Another study, led by Bowling Green State University communication scientist Alexander Goberman, tracked the performance of a group of individuals enrolled on a public speaking skills course. After some tuition, all of the participants were asked to prepare a seven-minute speech with three clear sections to it: introduction, body and conclusion.
Goberman and his colleagues measured multiple variables during the speeches including the number of disfluencies uttered by each individual. Disfluencies include filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘ah’, as well as part-word repetitions or other uncomfortable-sounding words. The team found a significant negative correlation between how early individuals had started practising and the number of disfluencies made by each individual. In other words, individuals who started practising earlier sounded more fluent.
Now, that may sound obvious. But if that’s the case, why doesn’t everyone start rehearsing presentation material as early as possible? In reality, some people leave their preparation too late.
Reframe the situation. Nervous presenters often focus on what could go wrong. Or they make the mistake of trying to ignore their feelings entirely. But psychological research suggests that presenters can feel less nervous by focusing on what could go right.
Psychologists such as Harvard University’s Jeremy Jamieson call the technique reappraisal. Make a conscious effort to think of possible positive outcomes. For example, you might think, ‘This is an opportunity for me to get noticed’ or ‘The audience will leave this session having learnt three valuable facts.’
Multiple studies have found that intentionally considering possible positive outcomes can help to alleviate the tension that people feel when preparing to deliver presentations.
So remember that you do not have to be a victim of your emotions. Psychological research clearly demonstrates that emotion regulation methods can to a degree help you to make a stronger impact on others.
Dr Rob Yeung is an organisational psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace
CPD technical article
"The reality is that audiences cannot see the dryness of your throat, the clamminess of your hands or the negative thoughts in your head"