To combat nerves hijacking your conversations and presentations, remember this: the audience and you have common ground. You want to inform them; they want to learn from you and hear what you have to say.
How can I prevent being overcome by nerves when delivering a presentation?
As a facilitator for The Ariel Group, this is a question I get asked quite regularly in the classroom. Whether delivering a high-stakes presentation or chatting in a one-on-one meeting, many of us battle performance anxiety. We feel the butterflies in our stomach. We start to perspire. Our legs shake. Either we barely get the words out of our mouth or they spew out so rapidly no one can keep up.
But not to worry. Here are a few tricks we actors keep in our back pockets when we feel nerves bubbling up:
- Practice. OUT LOUD. Too often, people only prepare for talks and presentations by writing notes on slides and perhaps practicing quietly in their heads. No matter how large (or small) your audience is, it’s crucial to practice your presentation out loud. And eventually ask some friends to sit in as you rehearse. Getting feedback before your moment can help make it stronger.
- Socialize with the audience before. They’re just people after all. By socializing with your audience beforehand and learning what they’re interested in, you can say something like “I was talking to Marge beforehand and this is an issue for her too.” It makes you more relatable as a speaker and you’ll feel like you have some “friends” in the crowd.
- Have a mantra. Have confidence in yourself and your experience. When all else fails, talk yourself up! Before you begin, say to yourself: “This audience can’t WAIT to hear what I have to say!” or “What I have to say is valuable.” If you think it sounds hokey or contrived, I used to be right there with you, until I tried it. And believe me when I say it’s just hokey enough to work. Give it a shot.
- Visualize yourself making the worst mistake possible. It may sound awful, but think what would happen if “x” happened? Figure out how you’d move on from it. Have a Plan B.
I recently was in a play where the lead actor was sick. During the climactic scene, he literally threw up on stage. The scene stopped. We all exited. The mess was cleaned up swiftly and the show continued. After the show we got a standing ovation and on my way out several audience members asked me, "How did you guys do the vomit? I couldn’t see any tubes!"
Your worst case scenario won’t be that bad. Go with the flow, keep on message, and your audience will think you planned the whole thing.
- Breathe and feel your feet in contact with the ground. Breathing helps us be present and in the moment. When nerves take over, people often forget to inhale and exhale. Exhaling is crucial during presentations. When you hold your breath, you tend to speak faster, at a higher pitch, and get more and more anxious. Find an opportunity when you practice to score your presentation for breaths, meaning find parts where can you take pauses and breathe to ground yourself.
To combat nerves hijacking your conversations and presentations, remember this: the audience and you have common ground. You want to inform them; they want to learn from you and hear what you have to say. Your tips want to be received. Believe in yourself and know you have the ability to deliver the information in the best way possible.
And don’t be afraid of your nerves. They can provide useful energy if you can use them, rather than letting them use you.
What tips do you have for combating nerves? Share them in the comments below.