Nervousness: Your Secret Ally in Presenting

If you get nervous before presenting, you’re normal. Studies show that 85% of people have some form of jitters or stage fright when approaching the spotlight.

The good news is, nervousness can be a powerful ally. Viewed from this perspective, the adrenaline coursing through your veins can motivate you to be sharp, focused, and perform at your best.

Think about athletes. They manipulate adrenaline to help them achieve winning results. You don’t see football players singing Kumbaya before kick-off. Instead, they butt heads, grunt, and perform other odd rituals, all in the spirit of churning up adrenaline.

Does this mean grunting and helmet bashing need to be part of your pre-presentation ritual? No. We are all wired differently. The key is to use strategies that work best for you.

We’ve found five strategies to be particularly effective. They are:

  • Breathing
  • Visualization
  • Nailing your opening
  • Audience involvement
  • Preparation and practice

Nervousness Strategy #1: Breathe

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Breathing comes so naturally, we forget about it. Until we stop breathing normally. This is typical when we’re nervous. .We usually do one of two things. We either forget to breathe, or we create shallow breaths from high in our chest. Both can impact voice quality and speed up the rate at which we speak.

The solution? Be conscious of your breathing. Breathe deeply, from your belly. Take long, intentional breaths. This will provide your brain necessary oxygen and relax any tension that’s built up in your body.

Nervousness Strategy #2: Visualize

Before top athletics complete, they visualize success.

We all create pictures in our mind in anticipation of events. These pictures amplify our feelings, for better or for worse. When we feel nervous, our inner critic tends to hurl accusations such as, “I’m not a good speaker! I don’t know my material. This audience is going to shred me to pieces.” These words form images that can derail us. Left unchecked, our inner critic will succeed at having us generate a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead of imagining failure, create a picture of success. Instruct your inner critic to go sit in the corner. Visualize in your head what you intend to accomplish. Change your self-talk to: “I am a great presenter. I know my material. My audience is interested in this topic.” This paints a completely different picture in your mind. Most likely, it will lead to more positive results.

Sound too touchy feely? Talk to any top athlete. They will tell you otherwise.

Nervousness Strategy #3: Nail your opening

Nerves are at their peak at the start of a presentation. As the presentation progresses, nerves begin to settle down.

Given this, why leave your opening to chance? Don’t. Devote time and thought to scripting the first few sentences of your presentation. You will know exactly how you will start. This, and a few deep belly breaths, will help you manage those nerves. You’ll start your presentation on solid footing.

Nervousness Strategy #4: Get your audience talking

Monologues are not natural; dialogues are. If you can create a dialogue in your presentations, this helps calm nerves. It shifts the focus from the presenter to the audience. It also begins to replicate everyday communication, which is to converse.

Tips that get audiences talking:

1. Open-ended vs. closed-ended questions. “Has anyone been part of a merger or acquisition?” doesn’t open much dialogue. Far better to ask: “For those who have been part of a merger or acquisition, what was the biggest lesson you learned?” This creates interaction and involvement.

2. Pause after you ask a question. Audiences need time to process the question, then decide if they want to share their answer in front of their peers. If you get anxious, merely re-state the question.

Nervousness Strategy #5: Prepare and practice

There’s no substitute for preparation and planning. You may have all the breathing, visualizing, dialoguing and solid openings down. But if you haven’t planned and practiced what you intend to communicate, you will be nervous. You should be nervous!

Taken together, these five strategies should dispel or “repurpose” 90% of your nervousness, and make it work on your behalf.

We have additional tips that address specific strategies to effectively prepare and practice presentations. They include how to outline presentations, when to use notes, and how to practice. These can also help ensure that nervousness becomes your best presentation ally.

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