Overcoming Presentation Nerves

Your boss asks you to give a presentation at the next company meeting. Nervous? Many people list Public speaking as their number one fear – Seinfeld once famously said, that he’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy! For some people the fear it so debilitating it can affect career choices and career progression; for others, the preparation is a time of real stress and performance suffers. How can you put fear to one side, and deliver that presentation or speech that hits a home run, every time?

First, let’s look at our physical aspect of nerves and their impact on us. Physiologically, our sympathetic nervous system is triggered when we encounter a situation we consider ‘dangerous’: heart rate increases, saliva production and digestion slows, pupils dilate, etc as the stress hormones Cortisol and Adrenalin are released into our system. This is an appropriate response to being stalked by a tiger or seeing a menacing thug approaching…but are we really in that much danger?

The problem with this response is that it hinders our performance: dry mouth affects speech; cortisol hinders the part of our brain (the hippocampus) that accurately records or recalls conscious memory etc etc. This is why speakers sometimes go…completely…blank.

Whew! To counter the nerves we need to have a plan – see the Top Five tips below. Next blogs will cover getting your content right, and the Top 10 delivery skills for presenters!

Top FIVE Tips for overcoming presentation nerves:

  1. ACCEPT that some anxiety is a natural part of life. Paradoxically, anxiety can be a good thing: fear prepares us for ACTION. Tell yourself you feel excited (as well as acknowledging that you have some anxiety). You can also make a list of the realistic dangers of giving a poor presentation, as well as the benefits if things go well (We call this, “What’s at stake?”)
  2. BREATHE. Breathe; breathe deeply and slowly: when anxious we over-breathe. Breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system that helps to calm our nerves, and makes us more relaxed.
  3. MOVE – your body is ready for action – from adrenalin – so MOVE IT! Get rid of the stress in your body by 5 minutes of vigorous movement: shake your hands, stretch, sit ups or pushups, whatever – you will feel much calmer after MOVING through the stress.
  4. DIVIDE AND CONQUER – Divide your content into KEY MESSAGES, each with supporting background information. You should be able to deliver each Key message in short, high impact sound-bytes of 1-2 sentences. If all else fails or if you go blank, fall back on your key messages. The supporting information can be passed on later. (Next blog: getting content right!).
  5. REHEARSE – Rehearse the first 3 slides or 3 minutes of your talk in front of the mirror. Practice the words, voice tone, gestures, pauses: everything. This helps you to get into the swing of things: after three minutes you will be much more relaxed and can take it from there.

Did that content help? What are your top 5 tips? Love to hear your feedback…