One of the consistent issues that many participants bring to my presentation skills classes is fear of speaking in front of an audience. In some people, this fear may manifest itself as mild anxiety while in others, it shows up as a nearly paralyzing force.
There are a variety of techniques used to help presenters deal with their presentation nerves, but I have just finished reading a book that comes at this fear from a more holistic perspective. I would recommend It's Your Time to Shine: How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking, Develop Authentic Presence and Speak from Your Heart by Sandra Zimmer as a very useful read to anyone struggling with this problem.
Zimmer's central premise is that "...stage fright comes from the belief that you should be perfect, and not only are you not perfect, you are not even nearly good enough. These feelings set up the devastating expectation that you are going to be judged as lacking or less valuable than others."
My work with people who experience presentation anxiety would absolutely support this. These folks have no tolerance for what they perceive as their shortcomings and they are convinced that no one else is as nervous about speaking to a group as they are. Often, no amount of facts to the contrary, positive reinforcement or actually seeing themselves on videotape doing a reasonably decent job will convince them otherwise. That's why I like Zimmer's approach to dealing with this issue.
She helps the reader re-frame stage fright from something negative to "...a sign of your sensitivity which you can tap to help you speak from passion..." Encouraging people to focus into their fear, she says, gives them permission to feel what they feel without judging that the feelings are bad.
The book is organized into three parts. Part I focuses on the hard, important work of exploring your fear and your feelings and Zimmer provides excellent, easy-to-do exercises on body awareness, grounding and breathing. There is also a useful discussion on self-talk, which I always recommend as a powerful tool in managing presentation anxiety.
Part II focuses on the critical skill of connecting with the audience, an extremely valuable antidote to stage fright, but a behavior that is challenging to those nervous in front of an audience. Zimmer uses what I think is one of the most powerful concepts to describe the presenter's relationship with the audience: "Your presentation is not about you; it is about them, being there for them, to provide information, inspiration and understanding. When you make this shift in your thinking and create a mindset of service, your fear will diminish dramatically."
Part III focuses on how to weave stories into your presentation as a way of reducing stage fright and forging a stronger connection with the audience. There are some great tips on how to pull the lessons from your stories and how to integrate stories into the content of your presentation.
In sum, It's Your Time to Shine is a nice mix of philosophy and practical advice. If you're strongly left-brained [as I am], you may struggle a little with the focus on feelings, but get over it! Fear of presenting is all about feelings that are deep-rooted and generally negative. All the presentation techniques in the world won't be very effective until you can understand, own and move beyond those feelings. Sandra Zimmer's method seems like a very effective way to do that.