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How can I handle my nerves?

Q: I’ve got a big presentation coming up at work. How can I handle my nerves?

Whenever you make a presentation or speak to a group, internal barriers often present the biggest obstacle to success.

Many people experience a lack of self-confidence when presenting in front of superiors or large groups. In some cases, these feelings may be rooted in poor experiences in the past, including harsh feedback on previous presentations. If you perceive the event as having high stakes, it’s likely to further heighten your anxiety.

There is no magic spell to make you feel more confident when speaking in front of others. Overcoming these internal obstacles takes practice, patience, and courage.

How can I handle my nerves?

Here are five tips for coping with nervousness:

  1. Don’t reveal your nerves to audience

Don’t start by mentioning how anxious or unprepared you are. And don’t make excuses in advance for a poor presentation. That doesn’t set the right tone for your presentation. So cut that out!

If you disclose your nervousness, it only leads the audience to focus on your nervous. They’ll watch to see if you are shaking or sweating. On the other hand, if you focus your audience’s attention on your words and ideas, you have a greater chance of success.

  1. Breathe easy & maintain good posture

Take a few deep cleansing breaths before you begin to speak. Deep breaths calm your emotions and help get nervousness under control. Breathing through your nose helps relieve fear because the nasal passages are connected to the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions. Throughout the presentation, breath evenly, from your diaphragm.

  1. Adopt a confident stance

Recent research on body language suggests that maintaining good posture can shape other’s perceptions of us. If you stand confidently before your audience, you’ll command their attention and respect. On the other hand, if you slouch, they’ll think you’re unsure of your material.

Here’s a thought-provoking Ted Talk on the topic by Amy Cuddy:

  1. Keep a steady, even pace

Many speakers speed up when nervous, as if trying to race to the finish line. For the audience, it’s a telling sign that the speaker is uncomfortable. But if you have practiced your presentation and timed it to the proper length, then you know you have the time you need to make your point. So why rush?

Using deliberate pauses between thoughts can calm your nerves and help your audience follow your ideas. Make your transitions between points clear.

If your mouth goes dry, pause and take a sip of water. It’s perfectly acceptable, and preferable to watching someone suffer with a dry mouth. Just make sure you have water at hand, so you don’t have to fiddle with your bag or interrupt the flow of the presentation.

  1. Have a plan

Following the ideal breathing techniques and body language will only benefit if you have a plan for the presentation. A clear framework is essential for organizing your thoughts and providing you with a path to follow.

Be specific. Plan out in advance when to make your main points, when to support it with specific examples, and when to ask a rhetorical question or invite audience participation. A revealing story often makes the difference in communicating your message. But it’s best to plan all this out in advance so that it fits within the flow of the presentation.

Having a plan also provides you with a safety net. If you lose your place or get distract, you can easily re-orient yourself and get on track. You won’t have to worry about forgetting something, because it’s all right there in front of you.

When introducing your topic, it’s worth taking a moment to share your structure with your audience. If the audience understands the structure and the rationale behind it, it can help them to follow along.

Following these five tips can help you remain in control as you engage your audience. With practice and positive feedback about each presentation, you can reduce your anxiety and become a confident speaker.

Feeling nervous for an upcoming presenting? Contact me to learn about trainings that can reduce your anxiety and put you on a pathway to success.

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