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The gentle art of faking it

As with any self-fulfilling prophecy, faking confidence is the first step to being confident

Popular quizzes often rate public speaking as one of the most stressful experiences in life. During seminars on presentations, I've observed quite senior staff (including teachers with considerable experience) will do almost anything to get out of the practical exercises.

It isn't the preparation of content, the development of visuals, the organisation of ideas or even worry over unexpected questions that's the concern; it's the simple act of standing up and speaking in front of a group that causes dry mouths, wobbly legs, shaking hands and other undesirable physical reactions (some best not mentioned here!).

Rational or irrational, this fear is widespread. Despite the plethora of advice on the internet, seminars, online tutorials, Toastmasters and so on, nerves still prevail.  Speaking effectively in public is a career necessity and a lifelong skill. So, how to get over the nerves?

Practice and experience is the only answer. And this, of course, has to be played out in front of audiences. Back to square one.

Given that non-verbal communication is said to account for up to 90% of our communication, it makes sense that just being able to look confident and competent will take you a long way towards having your audience believe that you are confident and competent. In other words, fake it!

So, assuming that you already know your content, here's a quick lesson in faking a confident presentation.

  • Observe: take every opportunity to look at people presenting in different contexts.  What makes them look at ease: is it how they dress? Their posture? Their gestures? Their voice?
  • Analyse: what part of making a presentation is most challenging for you? The start, finishing off, breathing, eye contact, keeping your hands still, making your voice firm?
  • Play to your strengths. If you're okay with making eye contact then start your presentation with a pause and engage with audience members that way. If you're happy to smile, then smile. Practice walking onto the stage or in front of the microphone so that it becomes familiar.
  • Stand tall, but not stiff. As with a meal where the first bite is with the eyes, our first impression is of someone's posture. The simple act of standing up straight conveys a sense of being in control.
  • Move with purpose. Make your movements count. If you need to have a drink of water, or check your notes, don't be apologetic about it.  Use gestures to include the audience – from wide hand movements expressing big ideas to small facial gestures conveying subtle emotions. Remember that you're in control.
  • Show enthusiasm through your voice. Use variations in pitch, pace and volume to engage the audience. Acting enthusiastic will make you feel enthusiastic – almost guaranteed.
  • Embrace the opportunity to communicate. Audiences are usually receptive and, to a certain extent, passive.  You have something valuable to share – so go ahead and do it.
  • As with any self-fulfilling prophecy, faking confidence is the first step to being confident. Remember, while you still may not feel totally in control, if you can fake it, no one will be any the wiser.