Top tips for managing presentation anxiety
- Be really clear about the material – what needs to be said and how are you going to structure it? What will you start with? What will you close with? Being on top of your material is a great way to feel more in control. If there are areas of unfamiliarity or unpredictability – then this will be your ‘known territory’.
- Organise the material – break it down into manageable chunks. This will help you to marshal your thoughts and will also enable you to note that you are progressing methodically through the content. There’s only one way to eat an elephant – and that’s one bite at a time!
- Prepare the material – this means you are going to actually rehearse it. In a quiet place where you’ll be uninterrupted you will walk and talk through the presentation – out loud. Give yourself enough time for this – maybe a day or two before the presentation itself. Again, this gives you a stronger element of the ‘known territory’. When it comes to the presentation, sharing your material with your audience will feel just that little bit more normal, natural, familiar.
- Breathing exercises can be very helpful as well. Prior to the presentation taking a few moments to settle the breath can be very calming. When we are nervous, we often tip into the fight or flight response. According to evolutionary psychology, in this state the oxygenated blood is diverted from our pre-frontal cortex to our muscles (so that we can do what is necessary to defend ourselves from danger). Taking a moment to centre the breath can get the oxygenated blood back where it is needed – in our pre-frontal cortex – so that we can be more in control and have access to our higher cognitive functions.
Not only that, but focussing on your breathing for a few minutes could be a welcome distraction pre-presentation. Thoughts of what you are about to do, can take second place for a while, to a concentration on your breath. A bit like a meditation.
Please refer to my ‘calming breath’ resource for more advice on how to do this.
- Visualise success – imagine the presentation going ok!
- Now, during the presentation try to focus on the material – your message – rather than getting overly involved with the running commentary inside your head. This brain chatter might be saying: ‘They all think it’s really boring, they’d rather be somewhere else, I wonder if they hate my shoes/my nose/my hair’!! Your audience cannot see these thoughts by the way – but tell these gremlin voices to just take the day off. Back to your material – back to your purpose
- It might be helpful to focus your eye contact on your allies in the room – those people who you know support you. Remember to make eye contact with your audience.
- Remember to smile – this is good for both the audience and yourself.
- Remember to breathe.
- Take your time – resist the natural urge to rush. Adrenalin seems to speed us up and our understandable desire might be to ‘get it over and done’ with as soon as possible. If people can’t keep up with what you are saying – they may tune out. You’re going to resist the urge to rush.
- Silences are ok – in fact a well-timed silence, or two, can be very powerful.
- Encourage your audience to participate. As you go along, ask them questions about your content. Good open questions along the lines of: ‘What do you think? How does that sound to you? You’ll come up with your own questions of course. This kind of interactivity takes the focus off you as the presenter – and puts responsibility on the audience to engage actively. In this way, it can be really useful to engage the skills of coaching within a presentation.
- Keep well hydrated – throughout the day pre-presentation and also ensure there is enough water on hand during your delivery.
- You may find it helpful to hold something in your hand. A pen for example. This might give you the sense that you’ve got something to ‘hold on to’ – something to hold you steady throughout the presentation. See if it works for you.
- Afterwards – take a moment to acknowledge that ‘you did it’. Every time you overcome your anxieties it becomes a fresh defence against them, for the next time you’re in this position.
- Good luck!