Do you hate the thought of having to stand up in front of a group of people? Speech anxiety is not as unusual as you may think; many people dread the idea of having to speak in public. But regardless of whether you’ve been asked to give a presentation to a client or make a speech in public, it is a skill that can and should be learnt.

Nowadays, presentation skills are needed in almost every field of business. Being a confident speaker and easy communicator are essential job requirements for anyone with management aspirations.

Confident businesswoman giving presentation

In order to inspire and motivate, strong leaders must have an engaging communication style to ensure their messages are put across effectively, and there are many dedicated leadership courses where you can learn what it takes to be a great leader in today’s world of business. Commercial training provider, iManage Performance say, “Inspiring leaders have a communication style that is not only engaging but infectious. They create vision but with clarity that teams buy in to easily. They engage and encourage in equal measure.

Here are 6 tips to help you get started on your journey towards feeling comfortable in the limelight.

1. Make sure you’re prepared

One of the most important things to help you feel confident in presentations is to know that you have thoroughly prepared for it. Are you familiar with the 7 Ps? Proper Preparation and Planning Prevent P#$$ Poor Performance. Know your subject matter inside out so you don’t stumble over facts and figures or questions you don’t know the answer to.

Any uncertainty will come across in the tone of your voice and your delivery – preparation is key.

2. Practice makes perfect

Once you’ve finished writing your speech or presentation, give yourself ample time to practise how you deliver it in public. Check yourself in front of the mirror, make an audio recording of your speech, get family or friends to act as a guinea pig audience and ask them to provide honest, constructive feedback.

Take any comments on board to refine and improve your performance, so that you can feel as confident as possible that you will come across well on the day.

3. Take small baby steps

Keep your audience small to start with when you’re developing your presentation skills. Speaking in front of a handful of people will be much less daunting than a larger group. All you need is a platform so you can dip you toe in the water and find that public speaking isn’t such a scary thing after all.

Practise with friends and colleagues and keep your speech short. A few minutes will seem like an eternity at first, but the more you practise, the sooner you’ll get familiar – and the butterflies will go.

Businesswoman giving presentation

4. Watch your body language

Did you know that over half of the messages we send are via non-verbal communication? Make sure that your facial expressions and body language are in synch with what you are talking about. Smile when you say something funny and show empathy at the right point. If you laugh nervously at a serious point, you’ll be sending mixed messages and sound less credible. Always maintain eye contact with your audience and own the stage.

5. Use audience engagement tools

Attention spans are a fickle thing, so what can you do to keep your audience focused throughout your presentation? Use some of the tricks employed by seasoned professional public speaker and incorporate interesting visuals or use interactive tools to hold people’s attention.

Visual aids such as PowerPoint slides, props or even the humble flip chart help to inform the audience, while interactive participation methods such as Q&A sessions or audience response systems makes everyone feel more involved.

6. Get familiar with the technology

Finally, even when you’ve done everything you possibly can to deliver a cracking presentation, things that are entirely out of your control can go wrong. When it comes to technology, make sure you arrive at the meeting early to test out the AV equipment, the WiFi connection and your own (or supplied) laptop.

If any of the AV/IT equipment lets you down, don’t panic. Instead, have a backup plan ready that you can revert to. Bring along hardcopy handouts and be prepared to improvise using whiteboards or flipcharts if necessary.