We all have an inner mouse. It squeaks fearfully when we have to speak to an audience. Yes, even confident speakers hear a faint squeak, but they don't waste mental energy on it.
Here's the simplest, most practical advice to come out of my years of helping speakers speak. When you're about to go in front of the audience:
Starve the mouse, feed the audience!
Picture the most terrified presenter you've ever seen. Pure cartoon-like mouse: petrified, wide-eyed, hands clasped beseechingly in front of us. Its innermost thought patterns run like this: you'll judge me, you'll see I'm no good, please like me. As an audience we can be sympathetic, we can choose to overlook the neediness, but we can't award credibility to speakers who focus more on themselves than on us. Deep down, we all know this. That's why self-consciousness is such a credibility downer. Also, each time you return to your fearful thoughts, you slip a bit more cheese to your mouse. Nor does it work to tell yourself not to have fearful thoughts; trying to do that is still centred on yourself and your mouse of fear just gets bigger and squeakier.
Instead, switch your focus from inward to outward - specifically, to the needs of the audience. Here's how:
With your eyes, face and body, actively show every person in the audience that you want them to get your message. Seek individuals out for a whole second of direct eye contact, give some of them a little nod as you make eye contact, and emphasize your points with raised eyebrows and gestures with hands.
With that switch of focus, the rodent will go quiet and slip away into the shadows.
What? You think I'm trying to turn you into a show pony? No way. A bit of extra animation will not be seen as show pony antics, as long as you are genuinely more focused on audience needs than on your mouse. An audience knows when you set out to put them first. Then, they'll ignore your little mistakes, they'll listen to your message, they'll see you as credible.
And - come closer, I'm just going to whisper this - they might even like you.
Interested in a presentation skills workshop for your team?
Of course you do. But don't mistake me, it has nothing to do with them smiling. It has everything to do with them experiencing this feeling: I like you, I respect you. When an audience warms to you like that, your believability and your ability to persuade take a significant jump in the right direction.
How to make that happen? Well it's hardly a surprise - if you want them to feel that way about you, you have to feel that way about them.They can't help but respond, even when they consciously disagree with your topic.
But of course self-consciousness gets in the way. It masks your natural liking and respect for others. Too many naturally warm people make presentations as if they came directly from the undertaker. The audience might feel sorry for you, but they can't warm to you. So the real challenge is how to allow your normal liking and respect for others show through in spite of self-consciousness.
Here's a solution that works well for many trainees.
Practise showing warmth.
Seriously. Get in front of the bathroom mirror and imagine bumping into a friend you haven't seen for a while. A friend you like and respect. Look at the subtle changes happening in your face muscles - especially around your eyes. Don't allow a big smile. Stay with the subtle changes. Now here's the important part. Next time you meet a real person you like and respect, be aware of those physical changes.
In front of a real audience, make those physical changes happen until it becomes natural.
And do yourself and your audience a very big favour. Make it happen right from the first moment - when you're walking up to the front, when you're in position, and when you're looking around at everyone and greeting them.
By the time you've said, 'Morning everyone', the audience should already be warming to you.
Even when they disagree with your opinion or decision.