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Dianna Booher shares tips on presentation skills for confident speakers

A recent post in my LinkedIn group said, “As a broadcast journalist with a radio show on a major network, I talk to thousands every day over the airwaves.  But put me in a room in front of a live group, and I freeze. Scares me to death.”

Another member responded, “I feel your pain. With years of journalism training myself, voiceover talent, and as a career broadcaster, I’m convinced speaking requires a totally different skill set.”  The colleague went on to commiserate and confide that presentations skills training had helped her control the nervousness that threatened her speaking career.

Mark Twain once observed: “There are only two types of speakers:  Those that are nervous and those that are liars.”  If nervousness is common, then how do people control it so that it doesn’t sabotage their success?  Ten tips for tackling fear follow here:

  1. Have a roadmapKnow your purpose. Why are you speaking to this group of people on this topic? Consider the fact that you’ve been asked because someone thinks you have a valuable perspective or information to share.  What do you want the audience to do, think, know, buy, approve, or consider when you finish your talk?  Write that action in a sentence and make everything in your presentation lead to that end.
  2. Make your facts and information tell a story.  Doing a data dump is dry, self-defeating, and dumb.  Don’t do it.  Shape your information to lead to a conclusion.  See the previous point.
  3. Never use visuals as a security blanketThe less confident presenters typically overload themselves with visuals because slides serve as their notes.  When you do so, gradually the visuals become the presentation, and you become a slide narrator.  As you realize you’ve lost the connection with your audience, your confidence ebbs away even faster.  Never compete with your visuals.
  4. Prepare with a dry run.  A mental walk-through won’t do.   Nothing gives you confidence like a legitimate rehearsal. Give the presentation. Time it. Record the timing for each segment. Then if at the last-minute, you have to cut the time by 10 minutes because the decision maker arrives late to the meeting, you know exactly what to eliminate without being rattled or rushed.
  5. Master the monotone monster.  Vary your speaking rate, volume, inflection, intensity, and pausing. Otherwise, your voice begins to sound like the pitter-pat of rain on the rooftop that puts people to sleep. When they start to nod off, you will panic.  Illustrating your points with personal anecdotes will often help you slay this monotone monster.  Telling personal stories puts you in a more relaxed, natural frame of mind as if you were talking to friends around the restaurant dinner table.
  6. Focus on your audience rather than yourselfRather than fearing your audience, think about the value you’re about to deliver to them.  What will they be able to do with this information? What decisions can they make? How will their lives be better?  Even if you’re about to deliver bad news, think about them compassionately. How can you help them see the positive side?  Is it better that they learn now rather than later? Is it better that they hear from a straight-shooter than a vague rambler?
  7. Be passionate about your pointThinking about your topic takes your mind off yourself and your nervousness.  Your engagement interests the group.
  8. Release the tension before you talk.   Take a brisk walk. Do isometric exercises in your chair. Push with all your strength against a solid wall, then release.  Let all the tension on your muscles roll off as you move so that your body language shows relaxation.  Release the tension so you can move and gesture naturally.
  9. Talk to yourself.   Play “What if?” games.  Pose a positive scenario about the outcome of your topic.  Mind –over-matter can be a powerful tool. Visualize yourself giving a stellar performance, followed by accolades from colleagues, boss, and clients.
  10. Find your fansAt the start of your presentation, focus on those in the group with positive body language (smiles, pleasant facial expression, open body language, nodding).  These positive people will give you the reassurance at the beginning when you need it the most.  Only later, after you warm up, should you glance toward those who look as though they ate nails for breakfast or lost their dog.

Tackling your fear and easing your discomfort not only makes you a better presenter, it increases your ability to think on your feet when the prepared remarks end and your extemporaneous comments and answers flow.

As CEO of Booher Consultants and a keynote speaker, Dianna Booher works with organizations to address specific communication challenges and increase their productivity and effectiveness in writing skills, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and client communication. An expert in executive communication, she is the author of 46 books, published in 23 languages. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, Bloomberg,, CNN International, NPR, Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. Clients include 22 of the top Fortune 50 companies. 1-800-342-6621

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16 thoughts on “Presentation Skills: 10 Tips to Conquer Fear and Develop Confidence as a Speaker”

    1. Thanks, Sandy. Obviously, you recognize confidence when you hear it among your own colleagues–narrators, broadcasters, and talented people in all the performing arts. From your blog at, I notice that you work with these people every day on projects as their voiceover talent. I’m assuming you hear from those who feel confident on most occasions and those who must MAKE themselves feel confident. In either case, the audience shouldn’t know the difference.

  1. Great tips. Especially for those preparing for an upcoming speaking engagement. Although #9 can make you look a lil’ off your rocker, be sure to handle this one at home ; )

    1. You’re right. Tip 9 definitely is best practiced while at home or while out jogging. Or, at the least, hold a cell phone in your hand so onlookers think there’s someone on the other end! Otherwise, the guys in the white jackets may take you away before you ever get to the presentation.

  2. I am more confident when I am speaking when I KNOW that I know what I am talking about! But there is always some nervousness at first. Thanks for these great practical tips to help prepare for next time!

    1. I agree 100 percent, Susan. Nothing builds confidence like knowledge of your subject. None of this “winging it” or “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy for me.

  3. These are great tips! I learned to use #4 when I was in graduate school and we had to do presentations and guest lectures. Dry runs in front of a couple of friends work wonders and can give great feedback. :) My other saving grace — making sure there is a full-length lectern to hide behind so no one can see my knees knocking. :)

    1. Yes, Helena, friends give great feedback–as long as they don’t love you too much. That is, as long as we give them permission to be totally honest and as long as they know what they’re talking about. And about those knocking knees, walk! Change spots in the room to make a new point. There’s nothing better to release the tension. You’ll look confident as you “own the stage.”

  4. With years of public speaking under my belt, I can vouch for every one of your tips. Thanks for gathering them all together on one spot!

  5. With years of public speaking under my belt, I can vouch for every one of your tips. Thanks for gathering them all together on one spot!

    1. Very true, Michelle and Alicia. A good case of the “nerves” can happen to both the seasoned and the newbie speaker.

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