Do it naked.

apollo naked man

“Imagine your audience is naked.”

Advice often hastily tossed to a nervous person struggling to deliver a speech. I don’t know, maybe it works for some people, but if your imagination is too vivid this kind of advice can only lead to trouble.

Instead, imagine YOU are naked. I don’t mean without your clothes on, I mean without the projector on. Imagine presenting without your slides. Could you do it?

It’s the stuff of nightmares. You’re standing before a crowded room about to give a presentation when suddenly the screen goes black, your slides completely unavailable. For many this means fumbling with the podium’s computer controls, maybe putting in a frantic call to the IT guys, and ultimately delaying or canceling the presentation. But why does this make sense? Did the people in that audience come to read your slides off a big screen, or did they come to hear you speak?

Scary as it may be, learn to detach yourself from your slides. They are not the presentation. You are.

All too often PowerPoint is used as a crutch. The bullet points become the speaker’s talking points, and you can tell because she stares at the screen as she clicks through her slides. But look at this kind of presentation from the audience’s point of view. How do you like spending your time watching someone recite a series of lists?

Let’s be realistic, giving a speech is a little scary. For some, a lot scary. But the best way to deal with the stage-fright isn’t to fall back on a slideshow to tell your story, it’s to practice, practice, and practice again. Step away from the computer, away from your slides, and practice giving the presentation until you can deliver it comfortably without them. Practice until you can do it naked.

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Then, when you have it down, bring the slides back in. You may find yourself wanting to rework some of your slides to better do their job–that is, to support what you say rather than just repeat it in list format. If you practice until you can do it naked, when the time comes to deliver your presentation to a real audience you’ll find the job is much less scary. You’ll find yourself feeling confident.

The stage-fright won’t ever go away completely. It’s an emotion even the most experienced presenters have to face every time they take the stage. But the confidence that comes with good practice will no doubt make a difference. So in the event the projector unexpectedly goes black just after you speak the first word of your next presentation, you won’t be left helpless, scrambling with the technology. Instead, you’ll remain calm, cool, collected, and just do it naked.