It's the most common question I get asked by those who deal with a fear of public speaking:
"Should I picture my audience naked?"
If we were speaking to a room of supermodels and firemen fresh off their annual fundraising calendar, it would certainly be a worthwhile effort.
As a presenter, you have a lot to think about prior to your talk. Ensuring that the content and delivery of your presentation is strong and focused, engaging your audience, making sure the technology works, eliminating distractions, and managing nervousness are among some of the key concerns of any speaker. So the question is, when you have to deal with all that, should you make the extra effort to picture the audience naked too?
So I'll be straight with you. Regardless of how good [or bad] your audience might look naked.... I'm sorry, but no. Sure, it would certainly make for a good story one day. And yes, it might be very successful at distracting you from your fear of public speaking. But it's also likely that clarity, focus, and the ability to put together a coherent sentence might go out the window. So it's with a heavy heart that I must break it to you, but.... you must give it up. Move on. Everyone can - and should - keep their clothes on. Even the firemen (sorry!)
Worry less about which tricks you need to use to fool yourself into being less nervous, and focus instead on giving a structured, engaging, and compelling presentation. Most of the time, your audience is filled with people just like you -- nice, intelligent people who hope to get something valuable and worthwhile from the presentation. (Instead of picturing them naked, check out this short video on the secret weapon to managing your nerves before giving a presentation).
Here are two essential steps that you must do if you want to keep your nerves in check:
1. Prepare EVERYTHING. Before the presentation: Become an expert in the topic, think about the questions you may get asked, research your audience so that you can focus the message to their immediate needs, issues or challenges. On the day of the presentation: Show up early, set up all your equipment well in advance so that there's ample time to deal with whatever technology issues may come up. Be 100% ready when your audience starts coming into the room so that you spend more time greeting them, and less time messing with the technology.
2. Practice EVERYTHING. Nothing will prepare you better for standing up in front of a group of people than rehearsing your presentation-- out loud. Seriously, nothing. If you're very short on time, practice the full presentation - out loud (yes, I know I said that already, but it's just THAT important!) at least twice. The first time to figure out where you're struggling for words and understanding the flow, and the second time to improve it. If you have the time for more than two practices, then do it. More is better. With each practice, your presentation gets better, smoother, and your nerves will diminish.
If you spend time tailoring the content of the presentation to your audience, creating a strong structure (learn the easy step-by-step process to creating strong structure to your presentations with the uniquely-effective Create A Signature Speech That Sells program), keeping it focused and engaging, staying on point, telling appropriate stories and examples, being very clear on what action they need to take as a result of hearing your presentation, and practicing extensively, you'll be able to face your [fully-clothed] audience with more and more confidence each time!
Or you can just create a business model where your target audience is comprised of supermodels and firemen. In which case....can I come and work for you?