You are not alone if you feel nervous about giving a presentation – in fact it is totally natural. However, being nervous doesn’t need to be a barrier to delivering a great presentation. It’s a case of accepting that anxiety occurs and then taking steps to deal with it. Here are some strategies for getting over presentation anxiety. Some of these strategies will help you before you stand up to speak and others will help while you are speaking.
1. Prepare thoroughly. That means finding out as much as you can about your audience and researching the content of your presentation. In other words make sure you know what you’re talking about. There’s really no better way to reduce your anxiety and to feel more confident.
2. Rehearse out loud. Ideally ask a supportive friend or colleague to listen and ask them for the feedback you need. For example: Am I speaking too fast? Does it make sense? Have I got any distracting mannerisms?
3. Do some deep breathing exercises. This technique is favoured by many professional performers as a means of calming nerves before a performance. You can do it subtly, without people around you even noticing. Here’s one technique:
- Breathe in through your nose for 7 seconds.
- Hold for 7 seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth for 7 seconds.
- Repeat two or three times only.Visualise success. Imagine yourself delivering your presentation, feeling calm, confident and in control, while your audience looks interested and captivated by what you are saying. Recall this positive image just before you get up to speak.
5. Allow plenty of time for set up. There’s nothing guaranteed to make you feel more uncomfortable than struggling with cables and connections while your audience watches. Always have a backup plan and don’t be totally dependent on equipment working. Your backup can be a flip chart and paper copies of your slides.
6. Use relaxation techniques. It’s not the time for lying on the floor with your eyes shut, but you can do some quick and easy things to help release tension in your body. Try relaxing your shoulders by pulling them up to your ears and letting them drop. Release tension in your jaw muscles by pulling some faces. Best not to face your audience when doing this one!
7. Mingle with your audience. Your instinct may be to do the opposite and to have a last minute scan through your notes. But if there is an opportunity to chat informally with people as they arrive, take it. It’s a great way to build rapport and gain some allies so that when you start speaking you are conscious of seeing some friendly faces.
8. Smile and make eye contact. A smile helps you to relax and creates a feelgood factor. Eye contact helps build rapport with your audience. Remember the first thing an audience notices is how you look. So make sure the first impression you give is a positive one and that you look the part.
9. Slow down and breathe. When you’re feeling nervous, the temptation is to gallop through your presentation just to get it over and done with. Take your time, pause and look around your audience. If it feels too scary to look them in the eye then you can cheat by focusing on their foreheads!
10. Drink water. It’s a good idea to drink some water before you start speaking. Have water within reach and if you feel your tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth, take some sips of water. Avoid taking big gulps of water in case you trigger a coughing fit. The last thing you need!
11. Focus on your audience. You are presenting for the benefit of the audience. It’s about them, not about you. Keep that thought to the front of your mind and you won’t have time to think about yourself.
12. Be yourself. No doubt you can pick up valuable tips from accomplished presenters, but it’s never a good idea to try to be ‘someone else’ when you are presenting. Having said that, you should remember that you are giving a presentation and not just chatting casually. Put energy and enthusiasm into your voice, your gestures and your body language. By doing so you will both look and sound confident. And you might even start enjoying giving presentations!
Your questions and comments are welcome. Perhaps you use other strategies that you’ve found helpful?
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