There are invariably some amongst us who have, shall we say, the gift of the gab - those who seem to be naturally born orators, those who could read a shopping list with grandeur and elegance. I don't know about you, but that description doesn't really fit me all too well. And many indeed of us find it difficult, for any number of reasons, to speak publicly; unfortunately, that doesn't save us from having to do so from time to time.

So, if there's no option but to make a key presentation, and it's not something about which you feel comfortable or confident, what to do? You can't get out of it, but trying and failing, stumbling through a lifeless hour with no emotion but discomfort for all, isn't going to help anyone. You'll have to overcome your own fears and limitations you perceive in yourself, and produce the high-quality presentation that you and your audience need. Fortunately, with a little preparation and a few handy techniques, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do just that.

The reason

Knowing where you stand is an essential step, so that you're not trying to construct your presentation in the dark, and we can divide this up into three things you need to understand - the reason for the presentation, the subject you'll be covering, and the audience you'll be addressing. We'll take the first of these now: why are you making a presentation? What is going to be expected of you? And, perhaps most importantly of all, why is it down to you? Not understanding these issues will inevitably inhibit confidence, confusion about what's required leading to confusion about what's needed from you. Certainty, on the other hand, encourages conviction, a feeling of 'I belong here', 'I can do this'; believing that of yourself makes the rest of the process possible.

The subject

There may be people who are gifted orators, but even they would struggle with a wholly unfamiliar subject - and those of us who find speaking difficult will manage better with content that's close to our own hearts. Familiarity with and deep knowledge of any subject makes it easier for us to talk about it; a lack of familiarity leaves us with just reciting words as uncomfortably as if they were in a foreign tongue. And although parrot-like recitation can indeed get us through the presentation, it's always an unsatisfactory solution, dry and unemotional and with no scope for expanding on any aspect of the presentation, nor for answering questions. Instead, learning about your subject can be the key to an engaging, involving and ultimately successful presentation.

The audience

Who's going to be there at your presentation, and how many of them? This is one matter that you can't control, so it's important not to be surprised. An unexpectedly large (or small) attendance can easily seem overwhelming and knock you off your stride, whilst knowing whether or not to expect a crowd that understands the subject helps you to make sure that your presentation is tailored ideally to whoever will experience it.

It's also worth finding out whether you'll know any of the audience. If you're going to have a friend in the room, visualising yourself as addressing that individual specifically can make the whole process a lot less intimidating; if that isn't the case, how about introducing yourself personally to the front row before you begin? It'll help create a more familiar and comfortable setting, and make for a less daunting environment.

Practice and preparation

It's not just being familiar with the audience, content and reasons that can make standing up before them less daunting, but also being familiar with presenting itself. The inevitable truism that there must be a first time shouldn't mean going into that first presentation a total novice, shouldn't be an obstacle to practising. Try out the presentation, or just try talking about anything, in front of a few friends, or family, or even the mirror - anything that will help you feel used to presenting a subject and yourself, to speaking out loud, to being comfortable with your words and your body language. When the time comes for the actual presentation, even if it is your first time, you can still have the confidence of knowing that what you're doing, you've done before.

A helping hand

Finally, what about getting a little assistance? You might be making the presentation by yourself, but that doesn't have to mean you're on your own out there. A range of presentation software exists - most notably Microsoft's PowerPoint and Apple's Keynote, although many other alternatives are available, with their own particular pros and cons - that can both help you produce a more engaging and stylish show, and also make the process easier and less intimidating. After all, any apprehension we may have about making our presentation reflects, to a significant degree, fear of a situation outside of our control, unpredictable and uncertain. But assembling a slideshow provides a major element that can be entirely controlled, and that can help us be confident in our presentation as a whole.

However, it's important not to rely too heavily on the software - it should complement your presentation, not be the entire presentation, and although the slideshow can have strong visual appeal, it can't replace the life and energy that the human beside it provides. Use it as a springboard from which to carry your presentation forward with enthusiasm and self-belief, use it as support to keep you firm when you may waver, but never as a substitute for yourself.

After all - to go back to the start - this is your work, it's something that needs to be done specifically by you. It needs ultimately to come from yourself, not from a computer. Coming fully prepared for all aspects of the presentation (and a short training course could help you hone these skills) helps you to bring out your best, and indeed the best of your content. In the end, anyone can put on a first-class presentation - and even if you'll never be the great orator, with the right preparation and confidence, you can match them for a day.