Financial professionals: Tips for overcoming presentation jitters

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nerve raking, business woman in panicYou’ve been asked to give an important presentation at a companywide meeting. But you don’t like speaking in public. And, on top of that, you’ve never before faced an audience as large as this. So, you’re feeling very nervous — and, frankly, wondering if there’s some way you can get out of the gig.

Before you bail out, consider the potential impact that doing so may have on your career. Today’s employers expect accounting and finance professionals to possess more than just stellar technical abilities — solid soft skills are also essential, including oral communication.

Yes, you have the jitters. But begging your boss to let you off the hook could limit further opportunities at your company. For example, it could earn you a reputation for not being a team player. It also may undermine your value to the organization because your lack of confidence could cause others to view you as a person who can’t rise to a challenge.

The best course is to steel yourself and start preparing. Here are some tips for overcoming your nervousness:

Embrace your role as an authority. First, stop and think: If you’ve been asked to speak on a particular topic, it’s likely because you’re considered an expert in that area. You’re responsible for imparting information and insights to the audience that perhaps only you are qualified to provide. Now, doesn’t that knowledge give your confidence (and ego) at least a little boost?

Plan out your “story.” If you’re nervous about presenting, you might be tempted to just wing it and hope for the best. However, if you don’t prepare, more than likely you’ll be setting yourself up for a speaking disaster. The No. 1 tip for overcoming nervousness about public speaking, according to Toastmasters International, is to know your material.

Even though you may be considered an authority, you have to organize your information and present it in a compelling way. It may help to think of your presentation as a form of storytelling. Start by figuring out what your audience should take away from your presentation. Then, build the “backstory” and the “plotline” that will help give the audience historical perspective on your topic, what it means to them right now and how it might impact them in the future.

Find your voice. Rehearsing your presentation thoroughly is essential to helping you keep jitters in check on the big day. When you practice, speak aloud and in a strong and clear voice.

Figure out the best places in your presentation to pause and take a breath. This will help you to relax once you’re in front of the real audience — and will prevent you from rushing through the information.

Consider practicing in front of a trusted colleague to get feedback on your delivery. You may even want to engage in a mock Q&A session with that person so you’ll be prepared to speak off the cuff in case your real audience has questions.

Lastly, remember that your audience doesn’t want you to fail, because they’re eager to be informed. Their expectations do add pressure on you, but they also can help to give you purpose. And even if you never grow comfortable with public speaking, knowing how important it is to your audience — and perhaps, to your career — can give you confidence to face the crowd every time.

Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.

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