Acouple of years ago I worked with a young IT sales representative in a presentation skills program. He arrived on day one with his seven colleagues, but he hadn't prepared his presentation. When he mentioned that to me, I suggested he present later in the morning so he could prepare. He assured me that wouldn't be a problem and he started making notes. Unfortunately for him, the first four presenters were good, for day one.
When it came time for him to stand up, his lips moved, but nothing came out. His face reddened, he started to shake, he gurgled . . . and sat down.
I calmed him and he said he'd prefer to deliver on a different topic. So he tried again. He stood, looked at his notes, looked at the audience, froze, quivered, and sat down again. The audience was mortified. Here was a sales colleague - a strong seller - who'd just crashed in front of his peers, not once, but twice.
He left at lunch and did not return. He didn't return to the training program, or his office, or his job.
Now that's a real case of nerves! Rogen facilitators have seen salespeople vomit from nerves. We've seen them cry, stammer and wet themselves. And we've seen them find any excuse not to turn up to their sales or presentation skills program. Overcoming nervousness isn't simply a case of practice makes perfect, because practising the wrong way of doing something, again and again, just makes the problem worse. The audience reacts badly and the presenter just gets more nervous.
I've never been present when an audience leapt up from their seats and hurled abuse at the person making the sales presentation. I've seen plenty look bored, and I've seen a lot fall asleep, but I've never seen an audience hurl abuse en masse.
So if you can put up with people drifting off, with people looking around the room, with chatting between individuals and groups, what's there to get nervous about?
Why get nervous? Well, why not? It's up to a dozen people staring at you, and you alone, for half-an-hour or so. It's a dozen people you may not have met; who may not like you; who will be studying everything you do - every movement, every gesture, every scratching, every mispronunciation, every stumbled step, every overhead upside down, every blown projector bulb, every slide with too much on it, every dropped notes page, every hiccup, every over-long pause, every falter in the voice. Why get nervous?
The reality is that nerves are caused more from a fear of the unknown than anything else. Because you don't know if any of the above issues will surface, you have the right to feel uncomfortable.
Therefore, Step One to getting less nervous is to get rid of the "unknowns". Know your audience. Know what they know about the product or service you're trying to sell them. Know what will be of value to them. Call the person who invited you to present. Ask him or her about the individuals in the audience. Call people who will be listening to you. Ask what will interest them. Then, if it's possible, sit in the room for as long as possible before you speak and get a feel for it. That means when you get up to speak, it will be your area.
Step Two is to check the gear. Check the bulbs, the light switches, computers, projectors and overheads, the microphone, the positioning of equipment, etc. Make sure your screen saver is set appropriately, software versions, plugs and cables are all compatible. Check your chosen colour, design and layout to ensure it can be seen when projected onto the big screen.
Now you have less reason to be nervous. You know the audience members will find valuable what you are going to say and you are used to the environment. That's a great start.
Jeff Sheard is sales director for Asia-Pacific of Rogen International. Reach Rogen at http://www.rogen.com.au