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October 01, 2011

Training Tip 16: Boosting Confidence

Audiences are more likely to trust and like a confident presenter. Unfortunately, nervousness  impedes most trainers, at least to some degree. Fortunately there are techniques for boosting confidence. 

Practice is a proven way of reducing nervousness. Do enough trial runs so that you know the material backwards and forwards. As Garr Reynolds explains in his book The Naked Presenter:

The more you are on top of your material the less nervous you will be. If you have taken the time to build the logical flow of your presentation, designed supporting materials that are professional and appropriate, there is much less to be nervous about. And, if you have then rehearsed with an actual computer and projector (assuming you are using slideware) several times, your nervousness should all but melt away. We fear what we do not know. If we know our material well and have rehearsed the flow, know what slide is next in the deck, and have anticipated questions, then we have eliminated much (but not all) of the unknown. When you remove the unknown and reduce anxiety and nervousness, then confidence is something that will naturally take the place of your anxiety.

Andrew Dlugan's Practicing Your Presentation has other practical preparation pointers.

Taking along an associate is another confidence builder. It worked wonders for reducing my nervousness as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney trying cases before a jury. My results improved significantly after I began taking a paralegal or law clerk to court with me. This reduced the number of administrative details I had to track and let me concentrate on the substance of my presentation.

If your associate is capable of helping you substantively by answering audience questions, etc., so much the better, but even help with administrative tasks like handling attendance records, distributing handouts, wrestling with balky projectors, troubleshooting your laptop and so on, they can still be a giant help. Not every organization can afford this luxury, but you are lucky enough to have someone to help you, take advantage of it.

Watching yourself on video can boost confidence. You may not like the way you look, but most people will find the exercise not merely helps them improve, but reassures them that they don't look as badly as they had imagined. Video is a fantastic tool for trainers, and thanks to the digital revolution video cameras have never been as affordable or convenient.

I have found having high quality handouts and/or slide show to be a giant confidence booster. When I have good supporting materials, I tell myself that even if I have a lousy oral presentation, the event won't be a total disaster: The audience will still get the key points from the handouts and slides.

"Automatic winner" is the name I give to a particularly powerful type of supporting material. This is what I call a slide that has two characteristics: It advances an important teaching point, AND it's something I think will engage and entertain the audience. 

I tried to create such a slide for the most recent OGE conference. The goal was to help the audience understand the importance of appropriate demeanor for trainers. Trainers need to be lively, but not so lively that they come across as phony. I prepared a chart illustrating two types of undesirable demeanor, and one listing the desired demeanors. I supplemented the chart with an MS PowerPoint slide with custom animation using pictures of movie characters to illustrate the "demeanor continuum": 

  • The Ben Stein character from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (a boring economics teacher) was the example of "Not "Enough." His zombie-like demeanor would put any audience to sleep.
  • Kurt Russell's car salesman character from "Used Cars" was the example of "Too Much." His hyper demeanor radiated insincerity.
  • Paul Newman's character from the 1982 courtroom drama "The Verdict" illustrated the desired demeanor. By every word and gesture, he conveyed sincerity.

Of course, few trainers will be able to convey an attitude like Paul Newman. The point is to give the audience concrete points of reference in a way that will instruct and amuse them.

Was this slide an "automatic winner?" I don't know, but I do know that having it in my pocket increased my confidence. This benefit will help nearly any presenter.
Provide your suggestions and examples in the Comments section below. Biographical information about our Training Tips columnist is available.

Posted by J. Lawson in Training Tips | Permalink


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