Any sane person suffers from stage fright when they have to give a presentation to a live audience. It’s just not natural to get up on a platform and offer yourself and your ideas to the judgment of a group of strangers. But that’s also your first key to the technique for overcoming stage fright: make sure your audience is not a bunch of strangers. How do you do that?

Start with your audience analysis. Find out everything you can about the people who will be attending the presentation. Look at their demographics:

  • Age
  • Level of subject matter knowledge
  • Sophistication
  • Education
  • Demographics
  • Cultural orientation
  • Profession
  • Job function

Some of these characteristics are more important to you than others, and that varies from audience to audience and from presentation to presentation. But chances are good that in just a few of those characteristics, the people of your audience are relatively homogeneous. Knowing about them as a group will help you figure out what they want out of your presentation and what kinds of questions they may ask. Audience analysis is one of the most critical steps in preparing your presentation.

But don’t stop with formal analysis. Get to know them as individuals. How do you do that? Get there early and mingle with them. Greet people as they arrive, introduce yourself, ask them about their business and their professional lives. This technique has a dual benefit. First, it begins the process of converting the people in the audience from strangers to colleagues. It’s easier, and much less intimidating, to present to a group of colleagues than to present to strangers. Second, these conversations may yield information you can use in the presentation itself: “When we were talking beforehand, Manfred said you’ve been having difficulties with cybersecurity. My next point speaks to that.”

Next, don’t limit your interactions to business and professional matters. If anyone gives you any sort of opening, probe their personal lives. That’s not to say you should pry, but questioning people about where they live, how many children they have, and what they do with their free time are likely to make you seem more friendly and approachable. Most people need very little prodding to talk about their families, hobbies, or pastimes, and are easily won over by someone who shows an interest.

Here’s the most important reason for continuing your audience research in person by mingling: it distracts you from your nervousness about the presentation itself. What do we all do just before giving a presentation? We obsess about it. Sitting in a corner looking scared and talking to yourself is not a good use of your pre-presentation time. By rehearsing your nervousness, you will reinforce it, making your stage fright worse.

Use the time before your presentation getting to know as many members of the audience as you can, and you will give yourself a goal that distracts you from the task ahead. This can help to relax you, but more importantly, it will keep you from imagining all the ways in which the presentation can go wrong.

In other words, begin your audience analysis with research and complete it with personal meetings. To learn more about audience analysis and how to apply it to large and small groups, consider Executive Presentation Skills® or our remotely delivered, instructor-led version, EPS Anywhere™.


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