The #1 question I get all of the time in workshops is “I get so nervous when I present I can’t think straight. What should I do?”
The reality is that almost everyone gets nervous when presenting in front of others, so you are in good company. Here are 10 ideas that can help you reduce tension.
- Hold something in your hand—like a pen, or the slide changer remote. This will help calm you a bit. Don’t hold a piece of paper, which will rattle if your hands shake. You’ll find that even holding a water bottle will reduce anxiety.
- Rehearse your presentation thoroughly. Don’t memorize it; that creates more problems, but know it. Know why and what you are presenting and what the audience expects. Have an index card with the main points itemized. Don’t read your presentation, but for many people just having all of the key points itemized and in their hands gives them more confidence. Make sure you know your open and close particularly well. The open will launch you more confidently and the close is an insurance policy. If you know how you will close the presentation, you can always use it if you get out of trouble.
- Breathe baby. Try soft breaths, not big in and out gasps. Pause if you hear yourself getting breathy.
- Drink water before you start. When your throat gets parched it tells your brain you are nervous and a whole bad cycle begins.
- Use body techniques – have a strong posture and smile. Research has shown that when people act as if they are confident, they not only fool the audience, they fool themselves into believing they really are confident.
- Lean into the table. If you are standing, lean into the conference room table. You want to feel the table pushing into your leg. It actually calms you down. I find this to work better than anything. It’s my way of telling myself all is well.
- Rehearse your presentation in front of people. Don’t just rehearse in the shower or the car when you are alone. The reason most people get nervous when presenting in front of others is because they are in front of others. You need to practice in front of others. Get used to people looking at you and listening to what you have to say.
- Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t let a flub, or a non-verbal tic throw you. We all make these sounds when speaking and the audience never notices. It is only the speaker who notices.
- Open with a story. If it is a story that you know well it will relax you and relax the audience. We are at our most relaxed when telling a story, so it an excellent way to begin, assuming the story makes sense for the subject matter. The story needs to end with a lesson that sets up the main takeaway of your presentation.
- And the number one thing you can do to avoid fits of nerves is all about content. If you can streamline your presentation so that it is focused razor sharp with a single takeaway and little or no sidebars, it will flow easier. Open your presentation with that single takeaway, demonstrate the wisdom of the takeaway in the middle, and then echo your opening in the close, at the end. You will find that you will be less nervous because the presentation has a natural flow that is easy to go with and easy to repair if you get off track. You will be less nervous and more confident, and, as an added bonus, the audience will actually remember much of what you said.