Don’t panic!

In the previous blog, we looked at how common it is to be nervous before a big presentation or performance. It happens to nearly everybody – even seasoned professionals. 

I presented a three-step process to reducing anxiety: 

1. Preparation

2. Just before

3. Delivery

Earlier, I discussed preparation, which happens long before you step onto the stage. The first part of preparation is to prepare your mind by thinking positive and truly believing that you will make a good presentation. The second part is to prepare your materials by writing an outline, notes, and slides, and practising a lot.

All this helps. But how to do you remain calm when you’re at the venue, waiting to take the stage…and when you’re actually on the stage?

In the hour just before your presentation, make sure you do these things:

  • Arrive early to show others that you are professional and organised. It also helps calm you because you’ll be able to test the equipment, get comfortable with being in an unfamiliar room, and feel the camaraderie with other presenters.
  • Use the lavatory so that you are relaxed and not distracted by physiological needs.
  • Drink a little water to keep your mouth and throat lubricated. Nervousness can cause a dry mouth, which makes it harder to speak.
  • Yawn to reduce any constriction in your throat that might tighten your vocal cords and make your voice rise in pitch.
  • Perform isometric exercises like pressing your hands together to loosen up tense muscles and because light exercise reduces anxiety.
  • Walk around to give you different things to look at so you are not constantly thinking about your presentation.
  • Breathe deeply to consciously slow your heart rate and give your brain the oxygen it needs to function well.

Now it’s your turn! You go up onto the stage, and you’re now standing in front of a room full of people. This is what you’ve been preparing for all this time. How do you keep control of yourself?

While you are speaking to the audience – the delivery of your presentation – do these:

  • Start with a smile to show the audience that you are calm and confident, but also friendly and approachable. Nervous people don’t smile.
  • Make eye contact to develop your connection with the audience. You look your friends in their eyes when you talk with them; do the same here.
  • Talk conversationally, as if you’re chatting with a friend, not a group. When you “forget” it’s a group, you will feel more comfortable.
  • Gesture, because most speakers move their hands in some way when they talk. It will make you look and feel more natural.
  • Walk around to disperse nervous energy and hide any involuntary trembling.
  • Maintain good posture to exude confidence. When you look confident, you start to feel confident as well.
  • Imagine the audience is silly (e.g. all wearing funny hats) because it will reduce any feeling of threat they may provoke. It will also help you to smile.

Presentations give you an opportunity to connect with investors, customers, and colleagues. Reduce your nervousness by preparing well, minimising your anxiety just before you present, and keeping yourself calm during delivery. If you do these things, I have no doubt that your presentation will be excellent, and as a result, you will develop confidence in presenting.