Testing. Testing. 1-2-3.

Increased heart rate. Sweaty palms. Shaking hands. The physical pressure of public speaking is something that many professionals face. Yet, presentations are something all of us have to do in the workplace. Whether at a job interview or at a sales meeting, getting up and presenting with confidence is a critical business skill.

How can you master the skill of public speaking? Practice and preparation.

“At the Lazaridis MBA, we teach and practice presentation and meeting skills from day one” says Carmel Branston, instructor and associate director of the MBA programs. “We encourage our students and alumni to accept any opportunity to speak to a group and practice their skills.”

“I used to hate public speaking” Carmel continues. “But after years of practice- including lecturing, work presentations and emceeing at weddings- it’s become something I look forward to doing.”

How can you become a more confident public speaker? Carmel has some tips:

  1. Breathe deeply. Dry mouth and tight voices due to contracted vocal chords only increase anxiety around speaking- practicing deep breathing will help alleviate this.
  2. Assume the posture. Before your presentation, stand in a power pose and continue to present with confidence once your presentation begins.
  3. Watch the tapes.  It’s important to have people tape you so you can see your own mannerisms and get better control of them for future presentations. “I had a colleague who I co-presented with who put his hands in his pockets and jangled his change,” Carmel reflects.  “seeing himself on video doing it drew the distraction to his attention. He now empties his pockets before any presentation.”
  4. Take a cue.  A typed speech on standard paper is a distraction for both your audience and yourself. If you need notes, use cue cards and point form.
  5. Gesture purposefully. Practice the hand gestures you are going to use to help reinforce your point. Otherwise random gestures may contradict your words.
  6. Be prepared. For anything and everything. Check the audio equipment. Know how you’ll handle a technical glitch. And of course- you need to know your stuff too. Once you’re presenting, you are in control. How you handle the unexpected can instill or dissolve your credibility.
  7. Catch their gaze. You’ve heard this one before. Be sure to make eye contact with people in various sections of your audience. You want to engage your audience, and eye contact is key.
  8. Answer confidently. Many presentations are followed by a Q&A period, so be sure to manage this part of your presentation as well. “Repeat the question back to give you more time to both understand the question and formulate the answer,” Carmel explains. “Take a pause- it’s okay to have some quiet time. And never fake an answer- it’s better to say ‘Let me get back to you on that’ than make something up and be caught giving a wrong response.”

There’s no guarantees that the pre-speaking jitters will ever leave you, but through practice and intention, you can convince your audience that they want to hear what you’re saying.

To learn more about body language when presenting, watch this TED talk: