Dealing With Nerves While Presenting
In an earlier article, I talked about the reasons that we feel nervous when giving a presentation.
Now, in this article, I want to talk about ways that we can deal with nerves. There are a lot of tips here on this page, so find the one that works best for you.
Preparation and Rehearsal
Even an experienced presenter will feel nervous if they haven’t prepared properly!
So, the first thing to do is to prepare thoroughly – there is no such thing as too much preparation – and prepare as far in advance as possible.
Frank is giving a big presentation at a conference on Monday morning. Here is his schedule for preparation:
Monday (1 week before) – Research and write an outline of the presentation
Tuesday – Put the ideas into PowerPoint format
Wednesday – Think of ways to make the presentation more interesting
Thursday – Create the graphics for the PowerPoint slides
Friday – Rehearse the presentation
Sunday Night – Review the presentation one more time
Monday – Deliver a great presentation
Can you see how Frank split his preparation into bite-sized pieces? That made it easier for him to prepare without feeling overwhelmed.
Frank was smart and made sure to rehearse his presentation a few days ahead. But what exactly is the best way to rehearse a presentation?
Method 1: Practice in the mirror?
I have long heard people giving the advice to practice your speech in a mirror. While, yes, this can be an effective way to rehearse, most people will just feel silly standing in front of a mirror and talking to themselves for twenty minutes.
If it works for you, fine. It doesn't work for me and I believe it doesn't work for most people.
Method 2: Practice in front of friends or coworkers.
This is an effective method because it is real practice with real people. Here’s how I would do it:
Frank’s presentation on Monday will be in front of an audience of 50 people and he expects to speak for about twenty minutes. On Friday, he has arranged to practice with a small group of three coworkers, and he has chosen coworkers who will take it seriously and give their feedback.
He runs through the entire presentation with them and they like it! They suggest one or two changes and they ask several questions, which gives Frank an idea of the kinds of questions the actual audience might ask.
Now, Frank feels super-confident!
Method 3: Practice in an empty room
If you can’t find friends or coworkers to practice with, you could practice in an empty room. If you have the chance, practice in the same room that you will be giving the presentation. This will give you a chance to check the layout and test the acoustics.
However, this method has the same problem as method 1 – many people would just feel silly doing it.
Method 4: Practice... in your mind!
The way that I like to practice is to simply sit somewhere quiet and comfortable and go over in my mind exactly what I am going to say. It’s practical and effective and gives a way for you to refine the language that you are going to use. It has the added advantage that you can use the technique of positive visualization (see below).
Rehearsing a long presentation
If you need to deliver a longer presentation (say, one hour or more), it’s not practical to rehearse the entire thing, no matter which method you use.
In this case, simply rehearse the introduction, the beginning of each major point and the conclusion. Note that it is at the beginning of a new point that we usually forget what we want to say, which is why it is important to practice this part.
Positive visualization is a technique that sports players use to motivate themselves. For example, before a golf player tees off, he might imagine himself hitting a great shot. This helps to make the great shot a reality!
Before a presentation, many people sit at home worrying and imagining how terrible the presentation will be. This is negative visualization!
Instead, imagine yourself giving a great presentation that wows the audience! Imagine all the great points you are going to make. This will help reduce your nerves both before and during the presentation!
Owning the presentation space
“Owning the room” in our context here means feeling as comfortable as possible in the room where you are going to give the presentation. Ideally, you should feel like the room belongs to you (hence, “owning the room”).
To do this, follow these tips:1. Arrive at the room as early as possible. Ideally, you should be the first one to arrive.
2. Test out the equipment before you begin.
3. Adjust the tables and chairs to your liking.
4. Chat to people as they arrive – welcome them to “your” space. That way, when you speak, you will have “friends” in the audience.
Dealing with nerves while speaking
If you are nervous – and most people do get nervous – your body injects extra energy into your system. Your body has to deal with this energy somehow, but there is a right way and a wrong way.
The wrong way is to stand in one place and speak faster. Have you noticed how many people speak quickly when they’re nervous?
The right way is to speak louder than usual and move around. Project your voice to the back of the room. Don’t stand in one spot, but move around the presentation space. Use gestures and body language to strengthen your points.
These are positive ways to deal with the nervous energy. In a nutshell, you want to convert your nervous energy into positive energy and use it to give a more passionate talk.
One more thing, although you might feel quite nervous, the audience probably doesn’t notice. The false idea that everyone can see how nervous you feel inside is called the illusion of transparency.
Dealing with audience reaction
When you give a talk, you may notice that some people in the audience don’t smile or look friendly as they would if you were talking to them one-to-one. This is because each individual audience member has no social obligation to smile or look friendly (as they would in a one-on-on conversation), but instead simply display their “resting face”, which can look unfriendly or even hostile. This can be very off-putting, especially for an inexperienced presenter. In addition, members of a modern audience may get distracted by phone messages and end up staring at their phones.
So what are some good ways to deal with this?1. Experience – as you gain experience as a speaker, this will stop bothering you
2. Pick out the friendly faces in the audience and focus on them. Ignore the frowning faces.
3. Smile at the audience, be cheerful and make jokes. Audiences get “nervous” or anxious in a way, too. Your smiles and friendliness will loosen them up and everyone will relax.
A good way to calm yourself down is simply to take a deep breath, especially if you find yourself speaking too quickly.
Yes, it’s seemingly impossible to take a deep breath in the middle of speaking, but you can do it just before you begin a new point. You can even stop and take a sip of water.
It’s also a good idea to take a deep breath and pace your breathing at the beginning of the presentation, before you start speaking.
You might think that it’s a crazy idea to try to enjoy presenting, but many people do just that. Even introverts (like me) can learn to enjoy presenting. After all, you get to be the center of attention, an authority figure, a teacher, an imparter of knowledge... it's a great experience.
And if you can’t enjoy the process, you can enjoy the final result. Much like a mountain climber that struggles painfully to reach the top of the cliff, the pleasure comes at the end of the presentation, knowing that you have completed a job well done!
Here's a summary of my ways to feel less nervous when giving a presentation:
- Prepare as much as possible and far in advance
- Choose an effective way to rehearse your presentation
- Use the technique of positive visualization
- Own the presentation space
- Arrive early and make friends with some of the audience
- Release nervous energy by projecting your voice and moving around
- Focus on friendly faces in the audience
- Pace your breathing
- Learn to see presenting as an enjoyable experience!