Presentation anxiety –stage fright – can be the death knell for an otherwise great talk. We all get nervous before a talk, but being nervous doesn’t have to mean you’ll do a bad talk.
Presentation anxiety is a response to fear of doing a poor talk. It shows ups in a number of ways: blushing, shaking stuttering, preparing. It will lead you to feel as if you’re not making sense, or worse yet, to lose the thread of your talk.
I’m sure you know that old story about the survey that asked people to name their greatest fear. Public speaking came in first, by a large margin. Death was fourth. So, if we are to believe the results of this survey, most people would rather die than stand up and give a talk.
I make speeches for a living, and I get nervous. In fact, if I’m not a little nervous, I start to worry that I will be flat and deliver an unenthusiastic talk. Over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks that I use to calm my nerves before a big presentation:
Practice your talk out loud. This will help you get comfortable with your material and your delivery.
Think good thoughts. Imagine yourself succeeding beyond your wildest dreams. Imagine that you will get a standing ovation for your talk.
Get there early. In this way, you’ll be able to set up your computer and run through your slides one last time.
Greet people as they arrive; exchange a few words with them. This will help you make a good first impression with members of the audience. It will also help you get control of your nerves, because you’ll feel more comfortable speaking to a group of people you know rather than a group of strangers.
Take a deep breath before you begin. This will calm you, help center you and give you enough air to get through your opening.
Move. When you begin your presentation, move around. Use body movement to help release some of your nervous energy.
Just chat. Think of your presentation as a conversation. There might be 10, or 25, or 100 people in your audience. But in terms of real communication, there are only two people in the room: you and a single listener.
Ask questions during your talk. This will help you build a dialogue and a participatory feeling. I try to make at least one quarter and as much as one half of my talk a discussion with the audience. In this way, it’s less of a speech and more of an expanded conversation with every person in the room.
Don’t worry if you make a mistake. To begin with, most people won’t realize that you made a mistake. Second, realize the audience is with you. They’ve all been there and know that presenting can be nerve wracking. Most people in the audience will be pulling for you to do a good job.
Presentations are an opportunity to shine. Don’t let stage fright rob you of this opportunity. The tips above should help you deal with presentation anxiety. However, there is one piece of advice that is paramount here: practice, practice, practice!