It’s finally here—the day you’ve dreaded. Today you’re going to stand up in front of many people and give your presentation. At the thought of this your heart begins to pound and your hands to shake. What can you do to calm your nerves?
The first thing to remember is that in general, people WANT you to succeed. That’s a very good thing to keep in mind. Second, remember that if you’ve prepared a great presentation and practiced the delivery, you have a much better chance that your presentation will go well. Preparation is the key factor to your success. You can’t prepare or practice too much. Assuming you’ve done both, here are a few additional tips to help you overcome your anxiety on the day of your speech:
- Practice relaxation techniques. You’ll find an entire article on this site that offers some relaxation techniques in case you don’t already have a few you practice. But it’s good to use them each time you start to feel nervous.
- Focus on your normal day. If you find yourself continually thinking about your presentation rather than your normal responsibilities, you need to refocus your thoughts. The more you dwell on the presentation, the more anxious you’re likely to become. Remember, the presentation will take up a very small portion of the entire day.
- Visualize the speech going smoothly. Once it’s getting close to delivery time, imagine yourself giving the presentation and it going well, without a hitch. This is like rehearsing in your mind and you’re more likely to perform the speech well if you visualize it that way.
- If you haven’t already done so, make a list of the things you’re afraid will go wrong. Look at the list to see which ones are the most likely to happen and have a plan to overcome them. For example, you’re afraid your PowerPoint presentation won’t work. Plan to have the material ready in another form to go over in your presentation. The more you have backup plans like this, the less you’ll have to fear.
- Focus on the content of your presentation. If you are confident that your content is good and you’re prepared, focus on your words and not yourself. That way your audience will do the same, and you’ll be less nervous.
Not all of these tips will work for everyone, but if you’re as prepared as possible, you can practice and focus on your presentation and thereby reduce your anxiety.
Tips for Reducing Your Anxiety: Gain Presenting Experience
It might seem counter to your nature, but the best way to overcome presentation anxiety is to give a lot of presentations. The more often you’re able to speak, the less anxiety you’ll have. Once you become familiar with speaking, it won’t seem like such a terrifying thing to do and you’ll also be able to hone your skills and give better presentations.
- There are a number of ways you can gain experience as a presenter. If public speaking is something that really scares you, you should start out be presenting to small groups. If you are part of a student organization or club, volunteer to speak at one of your meetings, even if it’s only to introduce the main speaker. This is a great idea for three reasons: first, you’ll be presenting in front of people whom you know and like; second, it will be a smaller number of people; and third, it will be a very short presentation and not take a whole lot of time to prepare and practice.
- The Next Step
Once you’ve had some practice in front of peer groups, another great way to gain experience is to become a member of the local Toastmaster’s club. This group usually meets once a month during the day, and each member has a chance to speak and/or critique fellow speakers. The environment is friendly and positive, and you’ll hear both positive and negative feedback that you can use to improve your skills. Each Toastmaster chapter is usually smaller in size, so you still won’t be speaking in front of hundreds of people, usually more like a few dozen at most. It’s a great way to gain valuable speaking skills and to overcome your anxiety.
- Step Three
When you feel more comfortable, you can get experience speaking in front of larger groups. Opportunities to do this may be harder to come by, but any time you have the opportunity, you should take advantage of it. By this time you should have a lot less anxiety, and by speaking in front of large groups, you should eventually overcome it.
If you’re dealing with presentation anxiety, rather than avoiding presentations at all costs, try doing them as often as possible. Before you realize it, your anxiety will be gone.
How to Relax Before You Give Your Presentation
Even the most experienced speakers can become nervous, anxious, or overexcited just before a presentation. This is not a good thing. When you’re nervous, it impacts your body in many ways, including your ability to speak. Your throat may become tight, your knees and hands shake, and your voice will shake as well. It’s best to find a way to relax so that you can prevent or stop some of these things from happening.
Here are some relaxation tips that many professional presenters recommend you try just before it’s time to give your presentation. Keep in mind that some of them can be done wherever you happen to be at the time. Others you’ll need to do somewhere that you have a bit more room and privacy—even a restroom will work.
- Take deep breaths. This technique appears on every presenter’s list. When you take deep breaths you force your body to slow down. Your heart rate lessens, and so do the shakes.
- Stretch. Like deep breaths, stretching forces your body to relax. Stretch your arms, legs, and back. When you couple this with deep breaths, it’s even more effective.
- Warm up your voice. You can do this by speaking a few lines of your speech over and over, or the way singers do it, by singing or speaking scales, a simple song, etc. When you become nervous your throat may tighten, making it harder for you to speak and breathe. Warming up your voice loosens the throat and allows you to speak easier.
- Loosen your muscles. Have you ever watched swimmers just before they’re about to start a race? They shake their arms, legs, and backs, and even jump up and down a bit. This technique is great to help you relax. Start with stretching, then loosen up the muscles by shaking them. You’ll get your circulation flowing, which will help prevent your arms and legs from shaking during the presentation.
- Smile. Believe it or not, the act of smiling will help you to relax. Smile while you’re breathing deeply and stretching, and while you’re warming up your voice and loosening your muscles. Not only will you begin to relax, but you’ll also begin to feel more positive.
You don’t have to do all of these techniques. Just try out a few until you find the ones that work for you.
Body Posture during Your Presentation
In all kinds of communication situations, your body posture can convey subtle meaning to your listeners. For example, when you’re talking to someone with your arms crossed in front of you, it could be interpreted that you’re skeptical of the other person’s message. When you’re giving a presentation, it’s important to know that your body posture and gestures convey meaning. The last thing you want listeners to think is that you’re anxious or nervous. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts for body posture and gestures. They may be able to help reduce your anxiety, or at least the appearance of it.
- DO stand straight and keep your head up. Slouching and/or keeping your head down can convey that you don’t have confidence in yourself or your material. It can also prevent you from having adequate eye contact with your listeners.
- DO use gestures. Communication studies show that not only do you look bad, but your audience won’t receive or come to understand your message if you don’t gesture. Gestures that relate to or emphasize your point enhance the listeners’ understanding of your presentation.
- DO make your gestures the appropriate size. If you’re speaking to a small crowd then small gestures will work. If you’re speaking in a large room to hundreds of people, your gestures should be bigger.
- DO keep your stance open by keeping your hands and notes away from your face. Hiding your face will tell listeners you’re nervous.
- DO start with gestures that are natural to you and make them bigger (if needed). You’ll feel more relaxed and at ease and your audience will focus on you rather than your gestures. For example, if you’re talking about the size of something, you can use an appropriate and natural gesture for small or large.
- DO practice using gestures when rehearsing your presentation. Practice in front of a few trusted friends and get their input. The goal is to enhance your presentation with your gestures, not distract from it.
- DON’T stand with your arms hanging limply at your sides.
- DON’T use the same gesture repeatedly. It becomes ineffective and downright annoying to your listeners.
- DON’T use a “prop” to keep your hands occupied unless you can refrain from playing with it. For example, some presenters hold a pen in their hands, but find themselves clicking it repeatedly. Your audience will find this distracting and annoying.
Voice and Pronunciation are Important Presentation Skills
If your hands aren’t giving away your nervousness to an audience, your voice may be. If when you speak to an audience you lose control of your voice or it suddenly becomes higher pitched, your nervousness will be obvious to your listeners. There are some things you can do to control your voice and gain more confidence in your ability to speak. Here are a few of them.
- Speak from your chest. You may have heard that singers are taught to project their voices from their abdomens or chests. It allows them to have much greater control of their voices. If you practice giving your speech by speaking through your chest, you will learn to control your voice and the pitch won’t change.
- Speak to the person sitting the greatest distance from you. Unless you’re using a sensitive microphone, this will cause you to project your voice rather than speak in a low volume or whisper. Your nervousness will be less noticeable to your audience.
- Know how to pronounce every word in your presentation. You’ll be less nervous and have greater confidence in your speaking abilities if you know how to pronounce all of the words in your speech and have practiced them several times. Make sure you practice in front of other people who might catch some common pronunciation errors. For example, it’s common for people to say “probly” instead of “probably.”
- Enunciate all of your words clearly. In addition to knowing HOW to pronounce each word, you also need to know how to speak each word as clearly as possible. If you don’t enunciate clearly, your message will be lost. If your listeners can’t understand what you’re saying, you’re going to lose their attention.
- Learn how to control the speed of your presentation. Some people’s nervousness shows when they speak; because they’re in such a hurry to complete their speech and step away from the podium, they talk in rapid-fire mode. If you’re speaking from your chest, it will force you to slow down. Properly enunciating each word will also force you to slow down. You need to speak at a speed that is natural, but not so fast you lose your audience.
Of course, all of these things mean you’ll need to practice your presentation several times before you give it. It will be impossible to overcome your anxiety if you don’t practice.
How to Use Your Voice More Effectively in a Presentation
The more confident you are in your presentation and your ability to give it, the less anxious you’ll be when the day comes to present. One way to gain more confidence is to learn how to use your voice effectively during your presentation. Not only do you need to know how to warm up your voice and prevent your anxiety from affecting it (information that can be found in a different article), but you should also know how to use your voice to make your presentation more effective and interesting. Here are some tips that can help.
- Keep an even pace overall, but slow down and speed up where appropriate. Of course you need to speak slowly enough that your listeners can understand your words. There will be times, though, when you might want to stir or excite your listeners. One way to do this is by speeding up. Slowing down or even adding pauses between words can emphasize a point.
- Don’t speak in a monotone. If you want to put your audience to sleep, speak in a monotone voice. If that’s not your goal, then make sure you raise and lower the pitch of your voice as you’re speaking. One good way to do this is to pretend you’re talking to a good friend as you give your presentation. When you have a particularly strong point, say it to the audience as you would your friend.
- Have some passion, excitement, or enjoyment about what you’re presenting. Sure, there are topics that are decidedly boring and dry. Try to find something interesting or exciting related to that topic to include in the speech and express it that way. If you’re bored with your presentation, don’t you think your listeners will be too?
- Know what words to emphasize. You don’t have to choose one word in every sentence to emphasize; that would come out sounding too weird or rehearsed. However, every three or four sentences, and especially when you’re expressing an important point, emphasize a few words by speaking them more loudly, pausing before each word, or using a hand gesture.
Incorporate these tips into your presentation as you practice it. The more you practice them the better your delivery will be, and that means you’ll be more confident and less anxious.
Important Information to Keep in Mind before Giving a Presentation
Presentation anxiety is very common. In fact, most people dread, fear, or hate speaking in public for any reason. One way you can overcome or reduce your anxiety is to understand and remember the fact that most people would be just as nervous as you. That’s just one piece of information to keep in mind. Here are some others that may help reduce your anxiety:
- Most people want you to succeed. Think about it. Don’t you get embarrassed for others when they make a mistake or otherwise struggle during a presentation? You don’t really want that to happen and neither do they. That’s a very important fact to remember.
- EVERYONE makes mistakes. From the most polished, professional speaker, to the star in the latest Hollywood movie, they have all made mistakes, and in front of a lot of other people. Don’t expect to give your presentation without a few slip ups here and there. Understand that they will be minimal, and that it’s very likely you’ll be the only one to notice. If the mistake is obvious, don’t get flustered or upset. That will only make the situation worse. Correct the mistake. If you can make a lighthearted joke about it, like you would to a friend, do so. Then move on. When the presentation is over, figure out a way to keep from repeating the mistake the next time you give a presentation.
- No one is paying as much attention to you as you think. Again, remember what you do when you’re about to listen to another person’s presentation. Unless it’s a topic and speaker that you’re very excited about, you are probably not giving the speaker your full attention. You’re thinking about what you’re going to do after class or on the weekend. So just remember you’re not under a microscope. And while it’s good to know that people aren’t eyeing your every move like a hawk, you also need to capture more of their attention, so they’ll grasp and understand your main points.
These are good points to remember, but they may fly right out of your mind when it comes time to give your presentation. You may want to write down the one that has the biggest impact on your anxiety and read it to yourself just before you start your presentation.
The Power of Positive Thinking and Visualization During Presentations
We’ve all heard it before, and you might think it is cliché, but thinking positively can have a big impact on your presentation skills. It can also help reduce or get rid of your presentation anxiety.
So what are some of the ways you can think more positively about your presentation and delivery? For one thing, it’s hard to think positively if you’re unhappy about any part of your presentation, from the content, to your delivery, and even your appearance. The first things you need to do are work on all of these things until you are happy with them. Then it’s time to start thinking positively about them all.
You can start generating positive thoughts by writing some down on a piece of paper or typing them into your computer. If you are genuinely happy with your presentation it shouldn’t be hard to come up with some positive thoughts. Make sure you don’t write down generalizations. Use specific items. A few examples are:
- My presentation includes interesting facts about which few people know.
- I use thoughtful analysis and data in my presentation that will persuade my listeners.
- I use my voice well and have a good rhythm and pace when presenting.
- I know how to gesture when I make a point.
- I look like I know what I’m talking about when I’m giving my presentation.
Once you have captured several positive thoughts about all aspects of your presentation—content, delivery, and your appearance– read them to yourself every time you practice giving your speech.
It’s also easier to think positively when you get positive feedback from others. Don’t forget to practice in front of some trusted friends, and make sure to ask them to give you both positive and negative opinions. Don’t dwell on the negatives, but try to use them to improve your presentation. The positive feedback should add to or confirm your own positive thoughts.
Visualization is another tried and true method that can help you overcome your anxiety. Once you feel your presentation is really ready, visualize yourself presenting it successfully. Do this before each practice session. It may sound like a lot of added work, but it can be worth it. Also, the more often you give presentations, the less time you’ll need to spend thinking positively and visualizing.