I must have been on Prozac when I agreed to present – 7 Steps to Managing Presentation Nerves

When you said “yes” to doing a presentation, you felt pretty good. You’d been working on the project they wanted to hear about. It was a great opportunity to be seen by management–and you were too busy to give it much thought.

As the date approached though, the audience numbers grew, you thought this was a group of 15, now it’s 150?

You’ve written and rehearsed but you still can’t sleep. It’s making you nuts and you tell everyone who will listen that you’re a mess and can’t believe you agreed to do this.

The day comes, you’re sitting in the first row, waiting to be called. All you can hear is crashing waves in your head, slamming you against the rocks.   

What if you develop Tourettes? Wet yourself? Trip on the stairs, knock over the water, knock over the podium?  

Worse yet, what if you stand up there and sound like a fool? Not quite what you wanted to expose to management.  

While many of us find death preferable to public speaking, it doesn’t have to be that way.

I do a lot of coaching with people who shudder at the idea of presenting.   You may not learn to love it but you don’t have to go through the shredder to be good at it.

There are lots of things we can work on through individual coaching, but here are seven basics to get you through in the short run.

Plan ahead. When you’ve accepted a speaking assignment, book some dates in your calendar. Allow time to write the speech and at least 3 dates to rehearse it.

Get a grip. Make sure you feel word perfect and comfortable with your visuals. Know when to click and when to turn and refer to the screen.

Live the nightmare. Take a walk and let your imagination run, what is the worst that could happen? Then come up with a killer line that would help you recover, “well, this will certainly be memorable for ME”, “who knew just getting up here could be so treacherous”, “This is why I didn’t apply to MI5”.

Now that you’ve got a recovery line, in case you get jammed up in the first 30 seconds, lets move on to other ways you can stay in control.

Check out the view. If you have the opportunity, sit in the audience’s seat or the client’s chair, in the actual room. See what they are seeing, picture yourself up there calm, confident and entertaining.  

Look ‘em in the eye. When you get to the stage, take a moment to have a good look at the front rows. Smile at them, they’ll smile back. Pick someone you can talk to, someone who nods and smiles back at you.   Don’t get obsessed with them, but use them as your touch point for encouragement.

Find your roadmap. If you go blank or lose track, don’t panic! That’s why you brought notes. Acknowledge it to your audience “I’ve just lost my train of thought, let me see if I’ve mislaid it here in my notes”. BREATH, locate your spot and pick it up.

Ask for an opinion. If you’ve lost your mind and your notes – ask the audience. Refer to the last thing you were talking about and say “I’d like to make this interactive – what do you think we can do in this area?”   Take a few comments while you clear your head and then pick up the presentation and continue.

In my coaching sessions the worst nerves seem to be brought on by a FEAR OF QUESTIONS… What if they ask stuff I don’t know?

Have a back up plan when you don’t have answers. An easy one is “I don’t know but that’s interesting, I’d like to check into that”.  

Even easier is to ask them back. People often have an opinion when they ask a question so use that “I haven’t thought about that, what do you think?”. This’ll give you info about their opinion which may lead to your own answer.

The one thing we all seem to forget is that no one in the audience wants to see you fail. There is nothing that provokes more anxiety in us as an audience than watching the presenter struggle. We want them to succeed, inform us, entertain us.  

Picture that audience as positive and receptive, wanting to see you in a good light, presenting your stuff with a flair.   Then hang onto that vision and you’ll sail through.

5 comments

  1. I have done a lot of presenting in my career, and still get the jitters before I start. I do utlize some of the tactics you mention, but I can’t believe it never occurred to me that the audience is on my side. Not that I thought we were in a combat situation or anything, but it truly never occurred to me to calm my nerves by thinking about the fact that the audience is there for a good show; not to see me fail. Hmmm. Great insight!

  2. Thanks for the comment Kathy, sometimes I picture them with thought bubbles over their heads, generally an encouraging green colour – keep going.

  3. Your post brought back all kinds of memories (night sweats, nightmares!!). I used to be terrified to speak in front of an audience. Luckily, over time those fears gradually went away. Oh, I get a little jump in my stomach in front of a large crowd these days, but nothing too bad. Rehearsing the speech, as you recommended, helped a lot. I used to rehearse 7 to 10 times at first, until I got my confidence up.

  4. I used to dread presentations but have come to enjoy the experience sometimes!, but only if properly prepared! I find that a good technique is to practice out loud in front of a mirror, imagine you are talking and having a conversation on the sofa at home or have a dry run in front of friends or colleagues! Another great article….Thanks

    1. Great idea Kevin, makes it all a little less intimidating. Rehearsing out loud is so helpful, it’s surprising where we find the stumbling blocks. Thanks for writing.

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