man giving a presentation

Palms sweating? Voice shaky? Feeling a little queasy? For the majority of people, this is what the moments before a presentation feel like. No matter how confident you may feel as a small business owner who talks to clients and vendors every day, there's something different about getting up in front a crowd, clearing your throat and realizing that everyone in the room is staring at you, wondering if what you're about to say is worth their time.

Honestly, there are a lot of good reasons to get sweaty and shaky in advance of an important presentation -- think of everything that could go wrong! Fortunately, there's an alternative to fretting about presentations: proper preparation. Whether presenting to one client or hundreds via an online webinar, some key steps can save you loads of anxiety and allow you to truly wow your audience.

Know Your Topic

One of the many things that made the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs a legend was his mastery of presentation. Mikal E. Belicove writes for about how Jobs' advance work became part of his magic:

'Steve Jobs was notoriously meticulous about his preparation, scripting everything,' says Belicove. 'Other presenters prefer to have an element of spontaneity or improvisation. Regardless of your style, mastery of your story affords you the luxury of calm and clarity, essential components to a great presentation.'

Get Them in Their Gut

The topic of your presentation may be the most important or exciting information your audience has ever heard, but if it doesn't feel important and exciting, that hardly matters. In a blog for Fast Company, Helio Fred Garcia, author of The Power of Communication, explains that capturing the audience's emotions is critical in getting their buy-in on whatever a presenter has to say.

'When faced with a stimulus, the amygdala turns our emotions on. It does so instantaneously, without our having to think about it,' he writes. 'Note how we tend to smile back when someone smiles at us; how we are immediately distracted when something we consider beautiful enters our line of sight....The amygdala is the key to understanding an audience’s emotional response, and to connecting with an audience.'

Garcia begins each of his classes at New York University by blaring 10 seconds of upbeat, mood-enhancing music, before smiling at his class and thanking them for coming.

'Only then do I begin the class,' Garcia says. 'I have hijacked their amygdalas. We need audiences to feel first, and then to think.'

Plan how to capture your audience's emotions, and your presentation will be more meaningful to them and your information will be better received.

Get Them There

Particularly with online webinar presentations, instructions are crucial. Not only is it important that your meeting attendees show up to hear your presentation, but it's also important that vague instructions don't leave them frustrated, tardy and distracted.

Gene Marks writes about preparing online meeting attendees in an article for the Portland (OR) Business Journal.

'If you’re having an online event for a lot of people make sure to have a process for signing up on your website You’ll need an enormous button on your home page that takes the visitor to a registration page suitable for a 6-year-old. No wait — a 4-year-old,' he writes. 'Make sure your email instructions to participants are crystal clear. Online meetings can still be confusing to some. Here’s a test: If they can remember Tiny Tim’s wedding on 'The Tonight Show' then they’ll need special instructions.'

There may be no way to eliminate every jitter before getting in front of a crowd, but proper preparation can help make your next presentation less stressful for you and more effective for your audience.

What other tips would you add? How do you prepare for your presentations?