Dear Life Matters,

I have been asked to give a presentation at an upcoming regional conference. I recognize that it is quite an honor to be asked to speak at an event, however, this will be the first time I’ve presented to other professionals, outside of speaking at a board meeting. I have accepted this challenge despite my fear of embarrassing myself or freezing at the podium. Do you have any advice for how to prepare and ensure that I convey a positive image while also providing value to the attendees? I have flexibility in the materials that I share at the conference and have been given 20 minutes for my presentation.



Nervous Speaker


Dear Nervous,

As you can imagine, very few people get excited about the prospect of speaking in front of an audience. In fact, public speaking often outranks a number of fears, including fear of heights, fear of spiders and fear of small spaces. Studies in this area have suggested that about 3/4 of people suffer from speech anxiety or a fear of public speaking. I am happy to hear that despite your anxieties over speaking to this group, you have accepted the challenge and taken an important step toward developing your confidence in speaking to an audience.

The more time you can dedicate to preparing for and practicing your presentation, the more likely you are to succeed. Focus on selecting a topic and materials that you feel very comfortable with. Choose something that you could have a social conversation about without having to review notes or research extensively. Selecting a topic that you feel comfortable with may ease the pressure of the actual presentation and will also help you feel more relaxed during the question and answer period of your session.

Once you’ve selected the key topic of your presentation, narrow down two or three “take away” points, or things that you want the audience to walk away with as a result of your talk. One mistake that some presenters make is trying to impress the audience with too much information. By concentrating on a few key points and building your presentation around those areas you will be more likely to provide value to the attendees.

Decide whether or not you will use visual aids to assist in your presentation. If the room is equipped with A/V equipment, you might choose to do a PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi presentation. Adding a visual component can be a great way to enhance your presentation by allowing easy access to images, data, and key details. However, be mindful that you do not rely too much on your slides. Adding too much content to your slides can overwhelm the audience and may cause you to read from your slides rather than engaging the audience.

Plus, a 12-point font is near impossible to read from the back of the room! Use your slides to highlight specific pieces of information, not to display your entire presentation. Consider a message that is hard to convey through words alone, such as charts and graphs, pictures or short video clips that drive home your key points. You may find it helpful to do a simple Google search of presentations to find samples that are visually appealing as a possible starting place.

Once you’ve settled on a key theme, content, and visuals, now it is time to work on your delivery. The best presentations often feel like a conversation instead of a rehearsed speech. Try watching a few TED Talks or YouTube presentations for ideas on how effective speakers convey their messages. As you practice your delivery, consider videotaping your presentation. Watching yourself and listening to your delivery might help you pick up on areas that need improvement, as well as areas that are especially strong. Once you’ve practiced a few times on your own, consider asking a friend or colleague to listen to your presentation.

On the day of your presentation, make sure to do a quick run through before your session begins. Spend time in the room you’ll be presenting in, test out the A/V equipment and take time to sit in the back of the room and visualize what your audience will see. When you take the stage, remember to take a deep breath and focus your eyes on the audience. Beyond everything else, remember to smile — it will convince the audience that you’re having a good time — even if you are dreading the experience. Now go knock their socks off!


KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M. is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor who holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Visit her online at Send your questions to All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!

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