You’ve practiced, you’ve prepared.
You’re ready to give the presentation, pitch, training or project update of a lifetime.
A little nervous? Scared to death?
Don’t let nerves be the thing that holds you back. Especially when you can use the jitters to your advantage.
I try to reassure participants in my workshops that the goal is not to eliminate nervousness.
Even the most seasoned speakers get nervous. The trick is to take your nervous energy and redirect it so that it comes off as vigor and passion.
Symptoms of Nervousness
The anxiety we feel before a presentation causes “stress hormones” to flood our body and results in almost the same biochemical and physiological reactions as the flight or fight response.
Common symptoms of nervousness include:
- Speaking at a rapid pace
- Poor eye contact with the audience
- Shaking hands and legs
- Shaky voice
- Knots or butterflies in stomach
- Sweaty palms
- Increased heart rate
The greatest presenters in the world experience these symptoms too. The difference is they’ve learned how to manage their symptoms.
11 Tips for Coping with Nervousness
There are quite a few tricks that can help settle your nerves before the big moment.
1. Know your material. This seems obvious but I can’t overstate the importance of practice. Not just once, but many, many times. Practice in front of a colleague. And as painful as it is, record yourself on video and watch/listen. But of all the material to practice, be sure to perfect the first minute of your opening. A smooth start sets the tone and confidence for the rest of your presentation.
2. Consider your audience. Ask yourself questions such as:
- How familiar is my audience with my topic? What are their experiences?
- What questions, reactions, objections might I receive from this audience and how will I respond?
- Will I have second-language speakers in the room?
- What is the seating arrangement?
The more time you spend putting yourself “in the shoes” of the audience, the fewer surprises you’ll encounter.
3. Arrive early. Give yourself plenty of time to settle in, check equipment and get organized. Rushing and fumbling will not have a calming effect on your nerves.
4. Build rapport with the audience. An additional benefit of arriving early is you have a chance to meet and greet your audience. Walk around and introduce yourself. Shake hands. Ask a few questions about your topic. You’ll find once your presentation begins, you aren’t staring out onto a room full of strangers. It’s reassuring to see some friendly faces who are rooting for you.
5. Practice the “Power Pose.” Body language impacts how others see us, but it also can change the way we feel about ourselves. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy found that when you maximize your personal space with open arms, an upright posture and your chin up, you create a sense of power and feel more confident. Daniela Bolzmann, Co-Founder of We Deliver recently pitched at Google for Entreprenuers Demo Day and put the power pose to good use. Before going on stage, Daniela and her team found the restroom and practiced the power pose for five minutes to calm their nerves and get in the right state of mind. (Apparently it worked because WeDeliver walked away with $100,000!)
6. Stretch. Rob Biesenbach, speechwriter, public speaker, actor and author of 11 Deadly Presentation Sins: A Path to Redemption for Public Speakers suggests stretching, just as you would before exercising. “It loosens the body and gets the blood moving and the oxygen flowing. Work on the biggest muscles first, like the quads, to get the job done faster.” If you can’t steal a few minutes away before you begin presenting, try simply clasping your hands or shirt behind your back, extending your heart forward and your elbows back. You’ll stretch AND practice the “Power Pose” at the same time.
7. Eliminate distractions. Another great tip from Rob Biesenbach is to clear your mind of clutter. Don’t tap away at emails or texts just before you’re about to present. Put away the phone and turn the volume to mute!
8. Breathe. Feeling nervous often causes our bodies to tense up and our breath to shorten. Try this easy breathing technique: Slowly inhale and count from the first sip of air, to the very top of the inhalation. Then slowly exhale, counting the same amount of numbers. For instance, if you inhale for 8 counts, exhale for 8 counts. This rhythmic, even breathing will slow your heart rate and you’ll feel a difference in just of few rounds.
9. Reconsider the triple espresso. Avoid caffeine just before presenting. You want to slow your heart rate, your pace of speaking and your breath. For many people, caffeine does the opposite.
10. Keep water nearby. Your dry mouth will thank you.
11. Channel your nerves up, not down. I often see nervous energy leak down into distracting leg and foot movements. Instead, take all the nervous energy you feel and imagine sending it up. Up to a strong, projected voice. Up to arms that naturally gesture. Up to animated facial expressions.
Your goal is to present your information with confidence and credibility. When the jitters creep in, try a few of these techniques.
Nervousness doesn’t need to hold you back from shining.