Thursday, July 25, 2024

Taking the Unknowns to the Known

I travel the world training and coaching thousands of people how to present well. From the CEO to the newest person on a sales team, I am constantly asked, “How can I get over my nervousness?” I have studied the subject extensively and have found the secret is turning your unknowns into knowns.

Let me explain.

I believe the reason people are nervous when it comes to presenting is the simple fact that they fear the unknown: Will I remember what I have to say? How will the audience react? What if there is no buy-in? Will I be invited back? What if the equipment malfunctions?

Without the answers to such questions, nervousness sets in. There is really only one remedy for this age-old ailment of nervousness: know the answers. That is how you turn your unknowns into knowns.

If you are afraid you will blank out and forget the main points during your presentation, then be so prepared through planning and practice that the words come out naturally and with ease. The fact is, the more you practice, the more you will know, and the more you know, the less nervousness you will be.

This applies just as well to the use of equipment, jokes, and even other individuals who share the stage with you. The more you know, the less you have to be nervous about. “This makes perfect sense,” you might say, “when it comes to tangible things such as practicing your presentation, organizing the little details, and having the equipment ready, but what about the things you can’t control-like the audience?”

The audience, even though you have probably never met them before in your life, can still shift from being an unknown to being a known. As this occurs, you will notice an immediate decrease in your level of nervousness. To know an audience, I first learn the basics of every audience.

The Basics of Every Audience

At the most basic level, every audience is asking one simple question: “What’s in it for me?” To know what’s in it for your audience, you must first know who your audience is. According to David Freeborn, an experienced speaker and presenter, there are four basic categories or mental states of those in your audience. They include:

The Prisoner-this is the person who would rather be anywhere other than indoors listening to another talk. Someone else sent him to your seminar. Prisoners are not responsible for being therebut they are responsible for what they take out of there!

The Vacationer-this is the person who volunteers to go to any seminar, figuring it’s better to be in a meeting than at work, home, or wherever else he’d normally be. He’s happy to be there, but for the wrong reasons, but count on vacationers to help you have a good time.

The Graduate-this is the person who thinks he doesn’t need to be there because he already knows this stuff. Create opportunities for them to share their knowledge and wisdom with others.

The Student-this is the attentive, hard-working, perfect audience member who wants to hear what you’ve come to say. He is eager to learn and share and, like a sponge, ready to absorb all he can to help him be more effective personally and professionally.

While knowing these basics will better acquaint you with your intended audience, what you really need to know are more specifics about those who will be sitting there listening and interacting with you.
The Specifics of Your Audience

Getting to know the specifics of your audience is a must. I have learned there are several ways to get to know my audience before I have even met them. One good place to start is to talk with former presenters who’ve addressed similar groups. Another is to talk with former attendees of the same types of presentations and ask what they liked, learned, and enjoyed. The most rewarding approach by far is to request a list of likely audience members, then pre-poll them by calling or emailing in advance to see what they want and expect.

In this type of pre-polling, you (or your assistant) can ask questions about your topic and about their expectations. By learning how they will respond, you will know what to expect and what to do to your presentation to make it even more effective. The more you know about your audience’s reaction and feelings about your subject, the more you will know and the less you will be nervous.

One more specific detail that allows you to “know” your audience even better is to go and visit the room where you will be giving your presentation, even if it’s only for 2 or 3 minutes. When I do this, I touch the desks and chairs, moving them if necessary, with the intent of getting an overall feel for the room and environment. I feel more connected and it gives me ownership. When this is practically impossible, most likely due to the fact that the event is scheduled out of town, I ask for someone to send me a picture of the room. If that is not available, a computer-generated or hand-drawn layout design is better than nothing at all.

Knowing your audience AND the location where the audience will interact with you is all part of overcoming nervousness. You don’t have to be nervous-turn the unknowns into knowns.

Tony Jeary Mr. Presentation – has conducted hundred of training events worldwide for a variety of clients including DaimlerChrysler, New York Life, Ford Wal-Mart, Sams Club and Texaco. Among his personal coaching clients are Peter Lowe and the president of Ford Motor Company. He is the author of over 10 books on the subject of presentation, including Inspire Any Audience and The Complete Guide to Effective Facilitation. For a free 1 page 10 Steps to Understanding, Building and Making Power Presentations flow chart on the 3-D Outline, and other information on personal coaching and custom presentation workshops, visit our website at, email Tony at, or call 1-877-2-INSPIRE.

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