How to manage presentation nerves

presentation jitters
Ever experienced presentation nerves? Nearly every eloquent, seemingly confident, well-versed public speaker does, and yet they still manage to put us at our ease and make it all look so easy. 

That’s a sign of a skilled speaker, because as we all know, public speaking is far from easy. It is a perfectly normal reaction to become nervous before a presentation.

This is basically because it is very unnatural to put yourself in the vulnerable position of standing before a large group of people who will judge you and what you say (which is really an extension of you, isn’t it?).

Part of the reason we fear public speaking so much is that awful feeling of vulnerability. A lot of this has to do with the sense most of us have of not being in control.

We know we’ll get up there and just “lose it” out of nervousness or our mind will go blank.

We just know we’ll start shuffling our feet or grab the podium for dear life without even realizing it.

Imagining these things beforehand can become a self-fulfilled prophecy, causing you to end up doing exactly what you’ve envisioned.

Anticipation like this, especially in the few minutes before stepping up to the microphone, is enough to make some people actually panic.

It’s okay to be nervous–as long as your audience never finds out! Follow these tips to overcome nervousness and build confidence.

Before your audience arrives:

Be prepared:

A very thorough understanding of the topic and how you want to present it is necessary for success.

Have a general outline of what you want to say, and know exactly how you want to deliver it before standing up in front of your audience. The more prepared you are, the fewer reasons you have for being nervous.

Get comfortable with your surroundings 

Always be the first one to arrive at the place where you are presenting. Even if it is the company boardroom that you’ve been in a thousand times, spend some time standing at the front of the room.

Envision people in the chairs looking at you. If you know the people attending your presentation, envision their faces. Get comfortable with this image.

Make sure the room is set up the way you want it to be. Move furniture appropriately and make sure there aren’t any traps—cables you might trip over, tables you could bump into, etc.

The more comfortable you are with your surroundings, the more relaxed you will be able to be.

Set up your presentation

Make sure your computer is working, set up your PowerPoint presentation, place participant materials, name cards, bottles of water, etc. at each person’s place.

Make sure that everything is ready to go so you can focus on your audience when they arrive.

Breathe deeply:

Breathlessness on the podium is one of the most common mistakes made because many novice speakers do not think to breathe.

If you wait until you are totally out of breath, you will then be required to inhale a huge amount of air in order to fill your lungs.

In doing so, you will experience breathlessness and a tightness in your chest. Our advice is to learn to breathe with the support of your diaphragm—truly the best means of controlling nervousness—and then practice supplementing your air supply before you are depleted.

Take a deep breath and stop fidgeting:

Take a deep breath, meditate, go to your happy place—do whatever you need to do and whatever works for you to relax.

Do this before your audience arrives or in a place removed from your audience—don’t roll out your yoga mat on stage.

Also, be aware of your nervous habits. Stop playing with your hair, tapping your foot, biting your lip, wringing your hands, straightening your suit, etc.

Your audience should only see the relaxed, confident, professional you.

If you think you don’t have any nervous habits, video record one of your presentations. You may be surprised by what you see.

Make a conscious effort to identify your own habits and put an end to them.  

When your audience arrives

Talk to someone in the audience before your presentation:

Try to find time to talk to at least one person that will be in your audience.  It doesn’t really matter what you talk about. Questions like, “have you travelled far?”  “Isn’t it hot/cold/wet outside?”

This will help to put you at ease because you can even talk directly to that person once you start your presentation, and you can mention them during the talk as a way to connect with your audience.

“Jim was just telling he cycled all the way from  —— to be here. Last time I rode a bike (etc).

Create a friendly environment

The previous example is all to do with relaxing your audience and forming a simple connection with them. They don’t want to feel tense any more than you do. But it stands to reason that when the audience begins arriving, the nerves go into overdrive.

Combat this natural force by creating a safe and friendly environment. Depending on the size of the audience, greet each participant individually and casually chat with the group. With larger groups, circulate and socialize with smaller groups of audience members.

Small talk will get your mind off your nerves and make you feel more comfortable with the people that are there. It will also make your audience feel more at ease and leave them with a good first impression of you!

Give yourself a pep talk:

Take a moment to prepare yourself mentally before you begin. This mental preparation could start as early as when you get out of bed the morning of the presentation, or it could be a quick pep talk just before you begin.

Remind yourself that there is a reason why you have been asked to speak—you have something very important to say!

The sooner you really believe this, the better. Everyone there wants to listen to what you have to say. They’re on your side and want you to succeed. It is a safe environment filled with friendly professionals who want to hear what you have to say.

These things may or may not be true, (generally they are, but there are of course exceptions to the rule) but it doesn’t matter. It’s about building confidence and making yourself feel more comfortable. The more you believe you have something important to say, the easier it is to convince your audience. It will be natural and obvious to them.

Find your biggest fan:

Not every audience is made up of total strangers. In fact most aren’t. Either way, in every audience there is at least one person that stands out as a “supporter.”

It may be a person you identified during the pre-presentation small talk, it could be a colleague who is a good friend, or it could just be a “head-nodder” (one of those people who really reacts to presenters by nodding his head, taking notes, and generally being very engaged).

These people are your biggest fans. If you’re feeling nervous as you begin to speak, or if you run into problems during the presentation, focus on these individuals. No matter what happens, they will continue to smile and nod their heads, giving you that extra push you need to get through. 

Right Beforehand

Warm up:

Right before you go on stage, stretch your mouth and tongue. Warm up your voice by humming from your lowest to your highest a few times. Drink lots of water, but no dairy or sugar. Then breathe deep, hold your chin high, and walk to the microphone with confidence.

Finally, when the moment comes, never apologize and say things like, “I’m nervous, please bear with me.” Just smile and jump right into it.

Remember, your audience will notice and remember what you bring to their attention. So, don’t tell them your knees and hands are shaking, don’t mention that you wished you’d had more preparation time, and don’t tell them if you forgot something. Just keep going and stay positive and professional.

Move around while you talk:

One simple way to start to relax once you’re on stage is to move around while you talk. Simply walking around and gesturing a little will let your brain and body know you are safe and that there’s no reason to be scared.

If you stumble, carry on:

Most of your audience will be relieved that it’s not them giving the speech. If you stumble, recover as fast as you can. Do your best not to get flustered and make sure you keep your place in your speech so you can recover from any glitches quickly.

Ignore distractions :

Unless the fire alarm has just sounded and you all need to leave the building, keep going! Keep your speech going as planned. Don’t panic if one or two of your audience walk out – they may just have had an urgent message or need to answer a call of nature. And make sure your cell phone is turned off as well!

It’s normal and natural to have pre-performance jitters. Even the biggest celebrities confess to still having butterflies before they perform. Keep your mental focus on your audience, not yourself. It really is all about them in the end anyway.

See also:

How to achieve your goals and live the life you want
100 ways to promote mental wellness
Qualities of a top presenter

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