Present with confidence

Delivering presentations

July 27, 2022

Confidence is key.

Especially when it comes to giving presentations.

Confidence will help you speak with more clarity and authority, which helps your audience better understand and respond to your message.

While it can be hard to feel confident—especially if you’re not comfortable speaking in front of people—your confidence can be bolstered with just a little bit of practice!

Whether a small group or a large crowd, use these skills to present confidently and make your message heard.

Table of contents:

Coming Soon.

Be cool like Clooney

Award-winning actor George Clooney exemplifies effortless cool no matter which character he plays. From the doe-eyed Doug Ross in E.R., to the smooth Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven, to the suave Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air—Clooney looks cool doing it all. 😎

Image source

What's his secret? Sprezzatura.

What is sprezzatura?

Sprezzatura is a beautiful Italian word originating from The Book of the Courtier by Italian diplomat, Baldassare Castiglione. He wrote,

“Practice in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought.”

Oxford Languages defines sprezzatura as "studied carelessness, especially as a characteristic quality or style of art or literature."

With sprezzatura, your presentation will flow so smoothly, and be so direct and natural that it seems almost improvised like it was meant to always go this way.

Yet, even though sprezzatura appears so natural and easygoing, it does take a bit of work to achieve this effortless style. Here are two tips to keep in mind as you achieve sprezzatura.

Two keys to sprezzatura

  1. Preparation and relentless practice
    Clooney has said, “I’m as prepared as anybody you’ll meet, or anybody I’ve worked with. Doesn’t mean I’m as good, I’m just prepared. I can show you storyboards this thick, with every single shot and every single scene. Every frame. Literally every shot.”

    Prepare your presentations in advance and practice, practice, practice! Create a script and run through what you’d like to say and how you’d like to present it. This way your message is heard and comes through genuinely.
  1. Inject humor
    Clooney has always valued a sense of humor and casualness in his style. Find ways to naturally bring humor and spontaneity into your presentation to keep your audience engaged.

Ultimately, sprezzatura is an example of the magic of continued improvement. A little bit really does go a long way.

Overcoming your fear of public speaking

“People’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death.”
–Jerry Seinfeld, American actor and comedian

Most of us, even the most confident leaders at the top, get nervous about public speaking. Well, it turns out that public-speaking anxiety is in our DNA.

The fear of public speaking can be traced back to prehistoric times when humans perceived watching eyes as an existential threat. Those eyes likely belonged to predators, so the understood response was to be literally terrified of being eaten alive.

As we’ve evolved, this ancient fear is now rooted in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which helps us process and experience emotions. So, at our core, we view public speaking as an attack and our body registers the audience as a predator. That’s why so many of us experience physical responses while speaking in front of people, like shortness of breath, redness, excessive sweating, and shaking.

Thankfully, there are some techniques you can use to ground yourself and overcome your glossophobia—fear of public speaking. Here are five tips to help you reduce presentation anxiety.

  1. Turn your focus to the audience
    Remember, the presentation is not about you. Be attentive to the needs of your audience and how your presentation will help them. Studies have shown that an increase in generosity can also lead to a decrease in amygdala activity.
  1. Breathe
    Breathing brings attention to the body and to the now. Get centered with this breathing exercise: Breathe in deep through your nose, breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat five times.

  2. Visualize speaking with a friend
    Chat with a friend and take note of the body language you use and bring those actions into your next presentation. Mimicking the body language and behavior of a comfortable situation can help reduce stress.

  3. Embrace silence
    Not every second needs to be filled with talking, so get comfortable with those “awkward silences.” Take those moments to collect your thoughts while maintaining eye contact with your audience. This tells your audience you are confident with the content you presented and gives you time to breathe.

  1. Be yourself
    Be your most authentic self in your presentations. Your audience can tell if you’re being someone you’re not. If you are loud and energetic, use that. If you’re quiet and more thoughtful, use that. By being yourself, you’re adding a personal touch to your presentation that helps create connections.

Body language matters

“I speak two languages—body and English.”
–Mae West, American actress

We communicate information both verbally and nonverbally; through our movements, gestures, and postures. Some estimates suggest that speech only makes up 20–30% of what we communicate—the rest is all body language.

Image source

When giving a presentation, be aware of your body and what you might be saying nonverbally. Sometimes our gestures or postures can unintentionally convey that we're disinterested or unapproachable, so take these lessons to learn what your body is saying.

Three reasons body language matters

  1. Good body language helps create a strong first impression. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have four times the impact on the impression you make over anything you say.

  2. Body language helps build trust. Trust is established through a perfect alignment of what we say and the body language that accompanies it. If our gestures do not match our verbal message, people subconsciously perceive uncertainty, deceitfulness, or internal conflict.

  3. Body movements can be used to reinforce or reemphasize. Body language can also offer insight into the emotions or attitudes of a person.

Five tips to improve your body language

  1. Project emotion with your face 😃
    People pick up on attitudes instantly. So before you greet a client, enter a conference room, or step on stage to give a presentation—think about the attitude you want to embody and the emotions you want to portray. Smile where appropriate. Smiling is a sign of welcome and inclusion and tells people you are approachable and friendly.

  2. Open up your posture 🚶
    Project confidence and poise with your posture by opening up your chest and arms and straightening out your spine. If seated, lean forward towards the audience to show you are interested and engaged. Avoid crossing your arms or turning your back to the audience, as it can make you appear defensive or unprepared.

  3. Use appropriate gestures 👍
    Use positive gestures like mirroring or nodding, but avoid aggressive and inappropriate gestures at all costs. Studies have shown that people with active gesturing are seen as warm, agreeable, and energetic.

  1. Maintain eye contact 👀
    While you speak, make eye contact with various members of the audience to help you form personal connections with the audience members. Avoiding eye contact creates suspicion and reduces confidence in what you are saying.

  2. Move around 🕺
    Take charge of the room and work with the space you’re given to move confidently before making an important point or to help signal a break. But avoid excessive movements as those can distract from your presentation. Movement keeps your audience from getting bored and can help encourage participation.

Expert Corner: The power of the pause with Hugh Fink

Hugh Fink is an Emmy-award-winning writer, producer, and comedian who has perfected the power of the pause.

Fink uses the powerful pause to help set up the premise of his jokes and deliver his witty punchlines, but a pause placed skillfully during a critical business meeting can help drive your message home.

Here are more tips from Fink to incorporate into your next presentation:

  • Don’t rush through your slides and slow down while you speak.
  • Modulate the sound of your voice and use volume and tone to express yourself.
  • Use your voice to stand out and keep executives interested.

Want to see the power of a pause in action? Check out this quick example from presentation skills expert, Patricia Fripp:

Use these skills to help keep your audience engaged and ensure your message comes across confidently and clearly. Want to hold and keep your audience’s attention? Check out this Prezent guide!