Thursday, 21 July 2016

Helping to reduce the fear of business presentations

For those of us of a certain age, the USA comedy series Seinfeld holds a special place in our hearts. For many years in ran second to Friends in the US ratings, the only fundamental difference being that Seinfeld was much funnier. One particular episode stands out in my memory, when Jerry Seinfeld and friends were sadly attending a funeral. The subject of peoples’ greatest fears came up in conversation and specifically where death itself was ranked compared with having to speak in public. Sienfeld’s comment was something on the lines of “So what you are saying is that three out of four people in the church now would rather be in the casket that having to give the eulogy”.

This apparently jokey comment seems however to be based on fact. After flying, speaking in public comes in a strong second place ahead of spiders, the dark and yes even death. Until recently I had no idea that there was even a specific catch-all name for the physical sensations we go through before and during public speaking. It is called Glossophobia (from the Latin word Glossa meaning tongue) and it covers everything from dry mouth and weak voice to sweating and elevated blood pressure.
For some reason many people do not equate public speaking with business presentations, be they client facing or internal. However, I can assure you that the three out of four rule expressed by Jerry Sienfeld applies just as strongly. It is for this reason that when we start working with client staff looking at how we might improve presentation skills, we start by recounting the above story and then spend much of the first session helping them understand that they are not alone. Making sure they understand that it takes time to reduce the anxiety, increase confidence and eventually improve technique. Regularly we even need to make sure individuals are not in some way questioning their self-worth because of their concerns and anxieties.

Helping reduce anxiety with regard to presenting (although it is highly unlikely that any of us will totally eliminate it) is one of the key steps to improvement. All too often businesses send staff away on a ‘Presentation Skills’ course along with 30 other people — and guess what, three out of four of them hate the experience. They are being forced into doing something they do not want to do and often to be someone that the simply don’t want to be. The first major factor towards reducing anxiety is to work initially on a one-to-one basis with the coach, allowing a relaxed and personalised approach to develop. Early on in the process we spend time identifying the type of ‘presentation personality’ that already exist and look to nurture that, rather than trying to turn everyone into a ‘performer’. Helping people to understand there are many different presenting styles, all of which can be just as relevant and effective as each other helps relax the individual and provides the platform for reducing anxiety and improving technique.

Once the above foundation has been established, the focus is predominantly on the ‘Three Ps’ — Preparation, Practice and Performance. Get the first two Ps correct and the third will follow. From the second session on staff are presenting to the coach. By session five or six they are challenged to ‘fledge’ — jump out of the nest, and present to a few of their trusted colleagues. And within ten sessions? Well often we have set up meetings with the senior management team within the client and those that we have coached are actually excited (if not still a little nervous) to demonstrate their new skills and are subsequently putting themselves forward to deliver both internal and external presentations, to a standard most would never have dreamt they could.

1 comment:

  1. Phil: You are way off about what Jerry Seinfeld said. See: