One of the most common questions I get asked in my communications work is this -
How can you feel confident while you're giving a presentation?
Where does that sense of knowing you're getting through, saying the right things, and making an impact come from?
The answer? I have a little trick that I find always helps.
I gave a couple of presentations last week, which were both challenging in their ways.
Above is a picture from my talk at Exeter College in Devon, my dear old homestead.
I was speaking to some of their highest academic achievers about how to get into a top university, and secure for yourself a great career.
Challenges - (1) they're real smart, and so probably much cleverer than me, and -
(2) dem's da yoof, and I'm an old crusty crumbly, thus definitely nowhere near as hip and street savvy as them.
But I'm pleased to say they treated me wonderfully well, I had a terrific time, and the session went great, even if I was a little nervous to start with.
So, back to the point, which is how do I reassure myself the talk is hitting the right notes, and keep up my supplies of the all important confidence?
My little trick is this -
In any crowd, you're going to be presented with a range of expressions.
Some will never react, even if you transform yourself into a juggling elephant, playing the trumpet whilst, balancing on a unicycle.
Some will always look as though you're a mortal enemy who stole their magnificent inheritance and burnt down their family castle before they were even born.
(And I have sympathy for this group by the way. It doesn't mean we're not enjoying the session. It's just the way our faces are built - mine has a tendency to make me look like a mugger focused in an earnest search for a new victim.)
But some in a crowd - beautiful, joyful, heaven sent people - will smile and nod and always look as though you're fascinating.
Bless them, bless them, and bless them some more.
Those are the faces to fix on, for the much needed shots of uplifting confidence through your talk.
My other presentation this week was to a sizeable group of Cambridge University doctorates.
How much more intimidating an audience could you wish for?
These are some of the cleverest people on the planet.
I remember, when I was asked to hold the session (it was on storytelling), thinking - what, me?
You want little old me to talk to this incredibly smart group?
Add to that, it was a three hour workshop, and you can imagine the butterflies going into the event.
But I'm pleased to report they were every bit as lovely as they were clever, and it was a hugely enjoyable, and highly productive evening.
I was very flattered that so many said they had learnt so much.
How did I get those hits and highs of confidence to keep me going, keep me believing in this talk?
The same old trick. One I've used time and again, and can highly recommend.
Fix on the smiles and nods in your audience, whatever it is you're talking about, and you won't go far wrong.