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Boost your confidence in presentations – lessons for Mark Zuckerberg
February 21, 2020

“He may have become a billionaire by the age of 23 but Mark Zuckerberg still used to get so nervous before public speeches that his PR team had to blow-dry his armpits before he went on stage,” The Times reported yesterday. Someone pointed it out in one of our presentation courses.

Unlike the perspiration brought on by exercise, nervous sweating is caused by the release of stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol.  These, in turn, stimulate the eccrine or sweat glands.  But nerves put a second set of sweat glands to work, the apocrine glands.  Unlike heat sweat which is essentially just salty water what oozes from the apocrine glands is a mix of fatty acids, steroids and proteins.

Anyway, enough of the gruesome science bit.  More importantly, how can you avoid sweating like the Facebook boss when you’re presenting or being interviewed by a journalist?  More generally, what’s the best way to develop confidence before a presentation or a media interview?

A lack of confidence very often comes from fear of the unknown and of not being in control.  It’s the “What if…?” factor.  We might talk dismissively about “control freaks” but human beings do like to be in control of their situations and their environment.  The idea of not knowing what’s going to happen to you, especially when there’s a strong element of threat is genuinely terrifying.

More confidence in presentations

For the senior executives and business leaders that we train being exposed, being made to look foolish – which can even happen to a brilliant, 20 something tech billionaire, as we’ve seen – is truly terrifying.  And, that’s not surprising.

So, as we say in our media training courses, you need remove or at least reduce the fear of the unknown.  Finding out as much as possible about a media interview – the subject, the format, the interviewer, who else is being featured and where you fit into the final story will build confidence.   In the presentation courses that we provide we explain that visiting the room beforehand, understanding who your audience is and even rehearsing your step up to the podium will help to increase your confidence.

Most of all, knowing your presentation inside out, learning it really well, is the best way to make you feel more confident.  One key tip from our presentation workshops is to learn the opening and the conclusion particularly well.  This has a benefit for the audience since we tend to remember the start and the end of the presentation we’re watching and so making it particularly polished, punchy and memorable will be good for them.

It will also help to boost your confidence during presentations because it’ll get you off to a good start with a really effective launch pad.  Similarly, knowing your ending as well as you know your address, we advise, means that if you feel at some point that you’re losing your way or losing your audience, or both, you at least know where you’re going and you can be confident that it’ll be good when you get there.

How to increase your confidence when delivering presentations

Decide on your key messages and ensure that they’re relevant to your audience.  Identifying stories and examples to explain and prove them will help to make you feel more relaxed and in control.  Just telling a story in itself can help to increase your confidence since this is something every human being can do and we do it all the time – with family, friends and work colleagues.  These work for presentations and media interviews.

Deciding on your key messages, writing and polishing your script and then learning it well with practice, practice, practice will give you more control – and, therefore, more confidence.

Nerves are natural.  If you didn’t feel nervous you wouldn’t have the adrenalin and energy to give a great performance.  Some people talk about taking those butterflies in your stomach and aligning them so that they’re like the Red Arrows – coordinated and focussed, disciplined and effective.

Nervous before a presentation? Be mindful and reframe your thoughts

Another way is to take a more mindful approach to that feeling of anxiety.  Observe that feeling and acknowledge it and use it.  Here’s a little exercise that we often do in our presentation courses to boost confidence.  Think about the symptoms of nervousness before a performance?  Not the feelings around them, just the physical sensations.  Sweaty palms?  Butterflies in your stomach?  Short breaths?  That gulping sensation?

Then think about the purely physical sensations of being excited – the alarm goes off early because you’re setting off on an amazing holiday.  That second date with “the one.”  The band that you’ve waited nine months to see finally coming on stage.

They’re roughly the same sensation, aren’t they?  So, reframe it.  These butterflies and things aren’t about fear.  They’re about excitement.  You’ve worked hard at this thing, you’ve got every right to do it and now you’re excited about finally doing it.  We taught this method for years before reading about a Harvard Business School psychologist (and singer – that’s actually important here) called Alison Wood Brooks who’s researched the idea.  Her experiments show that reframing these sensations is not only an anxiety coping mechanism but can improve your performance.

Talking of breathing – there’s one very basic but essential tip for improving your confidence in any presentation or media interview.  Just breath.  Deeply and softly and focus on it.

We’ve never done presentation courses or media training courses for Mark Zuckerberg but we’ve used these techniques – and many more – to build the confidence of hundreds of business leaders and senior managers.  Mark, if you want to have a go, just get in touch.

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