Five Tips for Overcoming Presentation Nerves


Presentations, love them or loathe them, are an increasingly common and effective way to deliver valuable information to large groups of people in a formal and structured way.

Presentations can be quite sombre affairs or they can be fun for the delegates. Some simply consist of a one-way stream of information flowing from the presenter to the delegates. On the other hand, some encourage participation from everyone involved. Presentations can be purely verbal, or they can include various media, such as visual slides, video or audio clips.

Getting a presentation right, presenting information clearly and meeting delegates’ objectives is a commendable achievement. However, crashing and burning in front of an audience is a real possibility that leaves some of us literally sick with nerves.

The stakes can feel incredibly high. In our desire to do well, our anticipation and fear of failure build. The body’s fight or flight response kicks in as a natural method of protecting us from a perceived threat to our safety and well-being. Sweating, shaking, muscular paralysis, hyperventilation, stomach upset, nausea and actual vomiting are all common symptoms of anxiety… and they can turn a presentation into a nightmare.

Firstly, it’s important to realise that feeling anxious or nervous before a presentation is not only normal, it can be beneficial too. Anxiety is simply nervous energy. With practice, we can learn to channel this energy toย improve the presentations we deliver making presentation nerves a thing of the past.

We should realise that these feelings are simply our brains’ way of making sure we do the best job possible. Without presentation nerves, we risk becoming over-confident. Over-confidence can lead to us missing out vital information, making simple errors and not delivering to the best of our ability.

Let’s look at five simple techniques to overcome presentation nerves:

1. Attend Other Presentations

Watching how others present can give you some valuable pointers for what works and what doesn’t work quite as well. Attending presentations as a delegate will also get you used to the environment and what kind of situations you can expect to encounter. Ensure you take notes during the presentations you attend and modify your own style and delivery based on your observations. Think about how the presenter is dealing with their own presentation nerves, because you’re guaranteed they have some! Are they making eye contact with their delegates? Are they talking too fast or too slowly? How are they moving around the room?

Familiarising yourself with presentations will enable you to make the transition from delegate to presenter with the least anxiety possible.

2. The Basics

Don’t take the basics for granted. Always get a good night’s sleep before a presentation. Eat a good meal and limit your alcohol and caffeine intake โ€“ both of which can elevate your heart rate and blood pressure.

Prepare well. This should go without saying, but you really do need to know your material inside out โ€“ including anticipating any questions from the delegates.

Ensure you get to the presentation room early to check that all the equipment you’ll be using is working correctly. Also use this time to check how your voice sounds in the space, including ascertaining the best volume for your voice.

3. Re-frame the Situation

Take time to consider the presentation from a different viewpoint. Whereas you may be dreading the event and the accompanying presentation nerves, or may be terrified of ‘looking stupid’ or ‘failing’, your delegates will be looking forward to the presentation.

For a delegate, a presentation is a great chance to learn some new information in a pleasant and relaxed environment. Think about your role as a presenter. You are fortunate to have the opportunity to deliver this valuable information to an interested and, hopefully, enthusiastic audience.

This is also a great opportunity for you to shine and really show people what you are capable of.

Always remember, no matter how nervous you are feeling inside, by being conscious of how you express that feeling, no one need ever know.

4. Stay Present in Your Body and Thoughts

When we feel overcome by anxiety, what is actually happening is that we are caught up in a stream of internal self-criticism, which is bounded in the future.

  • What if I fail?
  • What will they think of me?
  • How bad will I look?

Become present in your thoughts by consciously controlling these internal critical voices to reassure yourself:

  • I am not failing.
  • They will be impressed by me.
  • I look good.

Remaining in the present instead of worrying about the future is a highly effective tool in reducing anxiety.

Also, be aware of your body’s reactions. Note physical sensations like your breathing, heart rate and vocal tone. Adjust and deepen your breathing as necessary, sip water and allow your body and voice to relax.

Notice your surroundings, take note of the colour and shape of things, touch a surface, feel your weight evenly distributed from your toes to your heel. These actions will all help to physically ground you.

A really good trick should you feel your anxiety levels spiking is to use your five senses. Look around you and notice something you can see, something you can hear, something your can physically feel, something you can taste and something you can smell. This is another great way of physically grounding yourself.

5. Meet and Greet

Finally, one of the most effective ways of controlling presentation nerves is to ensure you meet and greet your delegates as they arrive. Use these vital minutes to share a drink with everyone. Ask how their journey to the venue was and informally introduce yourself. Perhaps you can use an amusing or light-hearted anecdote or icebreaker to relax everyone โ€“ try it, it really works! This means, when you have to stand up in front of these people, they’re no longer complete strangers.

Presentations can seem difficult but they are one of the best opportunities you will have to shine. A good presenter can make a real difference to delegates’ lives and will long be remembered. Every presentation you do will feel easier. Yes, sometimes things go wrong. Equipment fails unexpectedly and you may lose your place or get flustered. But remember, your delegates are human beings who are on your side. Some of them may even have been in your position. Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and continue. Enjoy the opportunity and the best of luck!

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