First of all, I highly recommend going on YouTube and searching for “Your body language shapes who you are – Amy Cuddy”. Watch it, and perhaps your life will change like mine did.
As a teenager I was painfully shy. I didn’t like having to ask shop workers where things were, much preferring to tour the entirety of the shop than have to speak to a human being. I never haggled for better prices. And most of all, I hated having to present to the class. Fast forward a few years and numerous presentations given throughout my course at university, and I think I’m not too bad at it. I certainly feel much more confident standing in front of a class now. As with all things, it was a gradual change but I can pinpoint one key thing that was most probably the impetus and it was that video.
In her TED talk, Cuddy talks about the relationship between our body language and how confident we feel. When we feel confident, we stand and sit in a certain way. We open up our bodies, put our hands on our hips, etc. Conversely, when we don’t feel as confident, we take on a different mannerism. We close in on ourselves, making ourselves as small as we can as if it were possible to disappear completely. This was completely true for high school me that would hide behind my groupmates and hide behind my file and cue cards – I basically did not like being there.
Curiously, the correlation works in reverse too. When we adopt confident poses even when we don’t feel it, one, we will appear confident to our audience, and, two, eventually we will become confident too. Ever since this TED talk, I’ve implemented this in my presentation style. I stand as tall as possible, straighten my shoulders as much as I can and I avoid holding even cue cards lest the old instinct to hide behind them kick in.
Another thing that helps is to be well-prepared. Prepare a script if you must and memorise it but try to deliver them in a natural way, a way that doesn’t sound like you’ve memorised a script.
And I suppose the last thing is practice. Can’t avoid it. I monologue my presentation in my bedroom several times the night before. I do image training as well, imagining myself at the front of the room presenting with confidence (it’s important to be optimistic here!). By practice, I mean to go through your presentation beforehand, of course, but I also mean to see your presentation as a form of practice. There’s no better teacher than experience. If there was something you think didn’t go too well then you can take a note of that for the next time. If your mouth dried up midway, then remember to drink plenty of water beforehand. A mistake is an opportunity to improve so take it in stride!
So, the TL;DR:
- Adopt a confident pose by opening up your body.
- Prepare the content thoroughly.
- Practice – image training, actual practice in the actual presentation room, whatever works for you.
- Post-presentation, evaluate your performance and determine how you can improve the next time.
A great thing about mastering presentations is that it improves your general communication skills too. If you can speak to a room of 40, then you can certainly convey your ideas to a room of 3, or even 1. So have a go. I believe you can do it.