Presentation anxiety has affected us all at some point – even when we’re well prepared and have no identifiable things to fear. It’s a natural ‘fight or flight’ response to the unknown, but you don’t have to let it get in the way of delivering an impactful and memorable presentation.
Presentation anxiety is very personal, and there’s no silver bullet that will work for everyone. That said, our team of seasoned PowerPoint specialists and communication pros have put their heads together to deliver some practical tips that will empower you to get a handle on your nerves and turn them into something positive.
Remember everyone started somewhere
It’s important to understand that great public speakers didn’t just become that way overnight – they all started somewhere, and through experience built up the confidence to present in the ways we admire.
When observing the effortless delivery and natural charisma demonstrated by Steve Jobs during Apple’s Keynotes over the years, it might be hard to imagine he was ever a public speaking amateur. But watching this clip from one of is first TV appearances will soon change your view:
A younger, less experience Jobs is desperately nervous here as he attempts to get a handle on his environment and everything that’s happening – a far cry from that turtleneck-wearing presentation Zen master he’d eventually become.
Turn nervous energy into a positive
Anxiety can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you tell yourself that you’re worried and that you’re going to mess up, then you probably will when the time comes to present.
Don’t let these negative thoughts internalise. Instead of being nervous about speaking, think about how excited you are to share your ideas. This conscious positivity and enthusiasm will come across to your audience, making you appear much more engaging.
As public speaking coach Sarah Lloyd-Hughes suggests on her blog, try visualising your public speaking experience. Pick apart the negative parts of the scene and amplify what makes you feel powerful. Now let this new scene manifest in your mind.
It’s a cliché, but breathing can play a huge part in reducing presentation anxiety. When we’re worked up and the adrenaline starts flowing, we often won’t realise how short of breath we become. This can really harm your delivery if you let it.
Take a few evenly paced deep breaths to fill your lungs and gather your nerves effectively.
Don’t rush through
If you’re anxious, there’s a temptation to get up and blast through your content as quickly as you can – racing to the end where you can sit back down.
But this is counterintuitive: rushing can have the opposite effect of stressing you out even more. Not only that, your audience won’t be able to properly absorb your content and you’re unlikely to feel good about your delivery once you’re done.
Make a point of taking your time (within your allowance, of course) and don’t be scared of silence – it’s actually incredibly useful for letting your message sink in, emphasising your key points, and even creating suspense.
Use the right body language
In Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy’s body language TED talk, she reveals that simply holding ‘assertive’ body positions can increase testosterone in the brain while reducing stress hormone cortisol – for both men and women.
This means an increase in confidence levels and a reduction in nervousness: you’ll feel more empowered and even be perceived that way by others.
If you make a mistake, keep going
If you make a mistake, don’t worry – just keep moving forward. Don’t let it derail the flow of your presentation or throw you off your stride. Remember that you’re the only one who knows the script, and your audience are unlikely to recognise any minor slip-ups.
Don’t worry about remembering every fact and figure (our PowerPoint specialists advise against monotonal factual recitations anyway). Instead, roll with the punches and let your passion show through; communicate your key messages in a powerful way and don’t get bogged down in peripheral detail.
Remember audiences are on your side
Don’t be desperate to seek approval: remember that you’re the one giving up professional or personal time to share your knowledge. Your audience appreciate that and are there because they want to listen – they’re on your side!
Remind yourself of your this and try to strike up a rapport: arrive early and get to know attendees before your presentation proper kicks off. This will help humanise your content and make both sides more relatable.
Nail your introduction
If there’s one part of your presentation you absolutely must know inside out, it’s your introduction. That first minute of your presentation sets the tone and agenda for everything that will follow; if it goes off without a hitch, everything else will flow naturally.
Nail the delivery of your introduction to hit your presenting stride and you’ll soon find that your presentation anxiety dissipates.
It might sound reductive, but the only real way to tackle presentation anxiety is through experience.
Use the above tips from our PowerPoint specialists and you’ll find that presenting isn’t the big bad wolf it’s cracked up to be. The more you engage in public speaking, the more comfortable you’ll become, and the more that your personality will show through. Be proud of the time and effort you’ve put into crafting your presentation, and feel empowered to deliver it to your audience.
Find out more about how you can increase confidence and reduce pre- presentation jitters with The Secrets of Confidence in Public Speaking.