A client approaches you with the question below. As the coach, how would you assist this client? Below is a script from Zahava Starak, LCI’s Master Coach.

My new job requires me to make presentations in front of small groups. I’m too nervous, what can I do?

What first comes to my mind when I hear this question is that it is NORMAL to be nervous and have anxiety when speaking in public!

Your client has to know this.  Explain to them that this nervous energy can be transformed into a motivational force enhancing their performance abilities. How? By enacting the steps of the Three P Program – PREPARE, PRACTICE and PERFORM.

This can actually be expanded to PRIOR PREPARATION and PLANNING PREVENTS PRETTY POOR PERFORMANCE – a simple slogan but one that for many is the secret to effective public speaking.

However before you initiate this program you may want to explore your client’s already existing competencies which may help their public speaking and establish their strengths so as to work from a positive framework.

You could do this by implementing one of the steps from a solution-based format and ask your client “was there ever a time in the past that you needed to speak in front of a group of people and were able to overcome your nerves and perform?”

Sometimes your client will be able to remember an occasion, perhaps not related to work, when they successfully talked in front of a group. You can then ask them what worked and transport those ideas to the present situation.

Another angle you can take is to encourage your client to “import some solution patterns from other situations in which they felt competent”. You can ask your client to think of areas in their life that they feel good about, including hobbies and well-developed skills. And then you can further ask them if there is anything that they know that they do in these areas that would be helpful now in dealing with their concerns over public speaking?

It may be that your client is a wood worker in his spare time – and as such it is essential that he has all the tools and material at his ready before undertaking a project – this requires detailed preparation. This competency can now be identified and imported into the three P program.

Another way to identify competencies is to ask your client to think about someone they know or have read about or have even seen in movies or in performances, who has had the same fear, and resolved it in a way that they admired and perhaps may want to try themselves. If they can think of any strategies these can be addressed when you start to prepare for your client’s first speaking engagement.

After such an exploration it is most likely that your client will come away thinking that the challenge is not impossible and that they do have some self support that they can rely on.

Preparation Stages

You are now ready to get down to work and can undertake the first step which is to help your client be prepared for the first of their talks. It might be useful to set some target dates – that include a completion time and some milestone check in points – so that your client will not be panicking at the last minute as they are not prepared.

You can guide your client through this preparation process by offering a few points. You can encourage them to:

  1. know the needs of their audience and match their speech content to their needs
  2. research all literary resources that they may need and have them at their ready
  3. if they are unsure of any facts – check them out
  4. consider any audio/visual resources they may need and at what points in their presentation
  5. write what they have to say in a logical sequence
  6. ensure that they write in a style that will keep their audience’s attention- consider-rhetorical questions, proactive statements, challenging ideas, the use of humour, the retelling of stories
  7. prepare any handouts

Also make sure that you include any suggestions that your client has borrowed from those other areas in their life that you explored earlier.

Once your client has successfully reached their target date and prepared their talk they are now ready to practice their presentation. They can practice their speech at home, or where they can be at ease and comfortable, in front of a mirror, their family friends and you their coach.

They can use a tape-recorder and listen to themselves or a videotape which they can then analyse with your assistance. Your feedback is essential and you can point out your client’s strong and weak points insuring that the strong ones will be emphasised during the presentation. The client can note problem spots in their talk and review these and make any corrections in content or in phrasing that will improve the flow.

You and your client can experiment with body language. Standing, walking or moving about with appropriate hand gestures or facial expression is often preferred to sitting down or standing still with head down and reading from a prepared speech – but the audience and purpose will determine the presentation style.
You can offer further suggestions on your client’s tone of voice and insure that there will be some variety in tone and pitch during the presentation so as to not put the audience to sleep.

If your client will be using audio-visual aids or props they may need to be clear on the technical requirements and may benefit from mastering the use of presentation software such as Power Point well before the talk date.

Your client may find it useful to watch video clips on other presenters including a mixture of the famous and the not so famous. You yourself can offer a mini demonstration.

Practice may take many forms but the end result is the assurance that your client feels confident in standing up before their audience on that designated day.

At the Presentation

Now at the presentation stage you can assist your client by reviewing with them what they will be wearing and their familiarity with the venue. Your client needs to dress appropriately for the occasion so as to present the desired image to their audience.

It is best if they look pleasant, enthusiastic and confident but not arrogant or inhibited (the practice of appropriate facial expressions and body language would have served as preparation for this). If your client hasn’t had a chance to preview the venue make sure that they know to take an opportunity to do so.

Double check that all equipment is set up correctly and especially that their microphone is adjusted accordingly – if they are using one. They may need to arrive early so as to be familiar with the room.

When preparing your client you can be of further service by discussing with them some specific tips for when actually presenting. Some of these tips most likely will have been covered in the practice stage – but it never hurts to review them when the client is ready to present. They may include such points:

  1. be confident in your preparation and practice – know that you have done everything possible and are now ready
  2. turn your nervousness into positive energy- by deep breathing exercises and positive affirmations just before you begin your speech
  3. speak with conviction- you know your audience and believe in what you are saying- so go for it
  4. don’t worry about mistakes- mistakes are all right and recovering from mistakes makes you appear more human
  5. remember your jokes and your stories  – use them to build rapport with your audience
  6. speak to your audience and not your slides or other visual aides
  7. do not read from your notes for any extended length of time although it is quite acceptable to glance at your notes infrequently
  8. maintain certain eye contact with your audience

It is very possible that your client has spent many occasions visualising themselves in this spot and has spent many more hours practicing – and when it all comes together – it is hoped that their experience is positive and exhilarating. Well worth this time and energy.