Being a powerful communicator has a tremendous transfer value to everything we do. As a presentation coach since 1988, I have witnessed transformations going far beyond improved presentation skills, including increased self-esteem, greater self-confidence and an increased desire to tackle other challenges. I have felt the debilitating fear of public speaking, and I also know what it is like to bask in the applause. Here are seven proven tip to help you control your presentation jitters and make those annoying butterflies fly in formation:

Tip #1: It’s good to be nervous.
Every speaker I know gets nervous before speaking. Being nervous means you care about giving a good presentation. Your nervousness produces adrenaline which helps you think faster, speak more fluently, and add the needed enthusiasm to convey your message.

Tip #2: Don’t try to be perfect.
The fear of public speaking often stems from a fear of imperfection. Accept the fact that no one ever gets it perfect and neither will you. You do not have to become Super Speaker, never saying “er” or “uh,” and never losing your train of thought. Be yourself-your audience will appreciate it.

Tip #3: Know your subject.
You must “earn the right” to talk about your subject. Become an authority on your topic and know more than most or all of the people in your audience. The more you know, the more confident you will be.

Tip #4. Involve your audience.
Ask listeners questions or have them participate in an activity. Keeping your audience actively involved will hold their attention, increase their retention, and reduce your your presentation becomes more of a dialogue than a monologue.

Tip #5: Breathe.
Before and even during your presentation, take a few deep breaths. As you inhale, say to yourself, “I am” and as you exhale, “relaxed.” Just before your presentation, leave the meeting room and go for a walk. Take some deep breaths and give yourself a pep talk.

Tip #6. Focus on your audience and your message.
What you have to say is important! Your audience needs to hear your message. Focus on that, rather than on your nervousness. You can do this!

Tip #7: Practice out loud.
Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Practice! The best way to reduce your anxiety is to rehearse until you feel comfortable. Practicing by yourself is important, but I urge you to also practice in front of a friend, colleague or coach who will give you honest and constructive feedback.


I wanted to walk off the stage! Many years ago when I first started speaking to large groups, I addressed a Chamber of Commerce where I wanted to walk off the stage in the middle of my speech. I felt like I was dying a slow death before 300 people. They looked so uninterested in what I was saying. I sweat so much that my shirt and suit jacket were drenched.

So why did I “die” that night when the previous day I gave the same presentation and the audience loved it? I learned a valuable lesson that night that I want to share with you now so you don’t ever experience what I did. The Big Lesson: Learn About Your Audience!

You’ve probably heard that before, but most presenters don’t take the time to learn what’s important and unimportant to the group they are addressing. Knowing your material is not enough. As the expression goes, “Before I can sell what Jane Jones buys, I must see through Jane Jones’ eyes.” Before you get up to speak, answer the following key questions about your audience. If you need assistance, contact the person who invited you to speak or some members of the group.

    1. What is important to this group?
    2. What are their wants and needs?
    3. What are some of their biggest challenges and problems?
    4. What successes have they had that you can comment on?
    5. What does this group need to hear or learn?
    6. What is special about this group?
    7. What will turn them on or off?
    8. What is their listening and learning style?
    9. What are their feelings about me and my topic?
    10. What examples will they appreciate?
    11. What will inspire them to take action?
    12. What do they have in common with each other?
    13. What do they have in common with me?
    14. What is their energy level?
    15. What other presentations have they heard today?
    16. Have they been drinking alcohol?
    17. Is their attendance voluntary or mandatory?
    18. What do they expect from my presentation?
    19. How can I exceed their expectations?

Keep these questions handy, use the answers to develop your presentations and you will connect with your audience and “shine in the spotlight.”


“They laughed when I started to speak… and that was a great relief.” Those were the words Ann relayed to me after her presentation. Ann was asked to deliver a rather serious presentation, and of course, she wanted to be taken seriously. During our coaching sessions, it was apparent that her topic and delivery style were so serious that it was actually self-defeating. People can only take so much “intensity” without requiring a release or a chance to catch their breath. As a presenter, if you don’t provide this release, listeners will often stop listening.

Incorporating effective humor is a skill well worth honing. In fact, often one of the best times to deliver a serious point is right after people laugh. Consider virtually any movie you’ve seen where something serious or sad happens – someone is diagnosed with a disease, someone dies, etc. It almost always occurs right after a scene that caused you to laugh. Movie writers know that this method intensifies the seriousness of the situation. Here are five simple ways to incorporate humor into your presentations:

Tip #1. Skip the joke books—look at your life.
Your listeners want to know about you. Consider humorous incidents from your own life. Perhaps they were not funny when they occurred, but you can laugh at them now. If you can laugh at it, chances are your audience will, too. To generate some ideas, finish this sentence: “One of the most embarrassing things that has happened to me is…”

Tip #2. Maintain a Humor/Story File.
It can be difficult to think of funny stories under the pressure of a presentation deadline, so start a “Humor/Story File” now and start noting your daily life experiences. Don’t worry about what point an experience might make or if you’ll ever share it. You never know when an item will fit perfectly into a future presentation. If something causes you to laugh, even in retrospect, jot it down and add it to your file. Set a goal to add three stories every week.

Tip #3. Have a point.
I have witnessed too many executives start their presentations with a joke or funny story, receive a good laugh, and then leave the audience wondering the purpose of telling the story. Remember that your goal is not to be the next great standup comedian, but to increase the impact of your message.

For example, there is an old story about a lady named Mary, who desperately wanted to win the lottery. Every week Mary would pray, “Lord, please let me win the lottery.” Then she would listen to the radio for the winning numbers, but no luck. Her prayers continued for weeks, but still no luck.

In desperation, Mary asked, “Lord, why won’t you let me win just once?” The heavens roared and a mighty voice replied, “Mary, meet me halfway — buy a ticket!” This story will typically get a good laugh, and when it does, it’s time to convey the more serious point of telling it. You might say something like, “If you want to increase your odds of winning the lottery, you must take action and buy a ticket. And if you want to increase your chances of achieving your sales goals, you must take action and call on more customers.”

Tip #4. If in doubt, leave it out.
Your humor should never be at the expense of others. Period.

Tip #5. Practice your delivery.
Tell your story several times until you tell it the best way possible. Sneak stories into conversations and note how people react. Transition into your story with a phrase such as, “That reminds me of the time . . .” or “Let me share a story . . .” Don’t start with, “Tell me if you think this is funny…” or “Here’s a joke…”


Martha looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Everyone wanted to help but nobody could. She had just finished delivering her presentation at the staff meeting. Everything had gone well, until the division vice president asked Martha a question she was not expecting. Martha had no idea how to answer, and you could see the sweat beading on her forehead as she struggled to save face.

Unfortunately, this was the experience of a woman who called me recently. A frequent concern of our Simply Speaking workshop participants is handling question-and-answer sessions. The “Q&A” often is the most important part of a presentation, allowing listeners to have their specific concerns addressed.

Here are six proven tips to help you prepare for and conduct an effective Q&A:

Tip #1. Anticipate potential questions.
Practice your talk in front of colleagues, friends, or perhaps people from the group you will address. Encourage them to ask tough questions and practice answering out loud. If you’re able to answer their questions, you are probably ready to face your real audience.

Tip #2. Act as if you really want questions.
Merely asking “Are there any questions?” often gets blank stares from audience members and the Q&A session falls flat. To let listeners know you want questions:
– Step forward to connect with the audience
– Ask enthusiastically, “What questions may can I answer for you?” or “Who has the first question?”
– Pause for a few seconds to encourage a response

Tip #3. Ask your own questions.
If no one asks a question, you may need to get things rolling. You might say, “A question I am often asked is . . .” or “Something I barely touched on is . . .” This typically prompts additional questions.

Tip #4. Repeat or summarize the question.
If there is a chance someone did not hear the question, repeat it. Also, if you are asked a complicated question, rephrase it so both you and the audience understand the question. This will also provide you a little added time to formulate your answer.

Tip #5. Do not bluff or panic.
If you cannot adequately answer a question, consider asking the audience for possible answers. Say something like, “I’d like to see how others here might approach that. Who has a possible solution?” Another approach is to say, “What I can tell you is this…” and then share what you do know. Providing a partial answer is often better than providing none at all. You can also say, “I will research that and get you an answer by . . .” If appropriate, ask the person who raised the question to write it on the back of a business card and give it to you after the presentation as a reminder.

Tip #6. End your Q&A with a bang, not a whimper.
After you answer the last question, leave listeners with a powerful parting thought. Say something like, “Let me leave you with this thought: If we work together and don’t focus on who gets the credit, there’s no stopping us from surpassing our competitors.”


Years ago, I had the privilege to serve on a jury, as the jury foreperson, for eight days. Being in a jury room for days of deliberation, discussing the credibility of each witness and how each juror perceived the issues was an invaluable experience. Here is one of the key lessons I learned:

I believe one of the reasons that the prosecuting team failed to win the trial is that they diluted their message. Along with the person who allegedly committed the most egregious act of malpractice, the attorneys presented evidence that two or three other acts of malpractice had been committed. These acts were virtually insignificant by comparison. While the attorneys may have thought, “Let’s tell the jurors everything, let them sort it out, and we’ll increase our odds of winning,” the information overload worked against them. When the jury entered deliberations, it took nearly two days to sort out what was important and what was not. I’m not sure we ever really figured that out. No verdict was ever reached, and a mistrial was declared due to a “hung jury.”

The lesson is universal: When you have a key message that you want your listeners to remember more than anything else, don’t dilute it by telling them about other less important issues. Though you may feel the urge to tell your listeners everything about what you are “selling,” it’s often best to identify the one “Big Idea” you wish to convey and stick to that.

As you prepare your presentations, ask yourself: When listeners are asked by others, “What did the speaker talk about,” what do I want them to say? The answer to this question is your Big Idea and everything in your presentation should reinforce that Big Idea.