Presentations…The dreaded P word!
How do you feel when you are asked to give a presentation at work? Nervous? Or excited?
For a vast majority of people they feel nervous.
We hate the idea of having to stand up in front of a group of our peers (or strangers) and present something to them. Endless thoughts go through our minds.
“Will I remember my speech? What happens if something goes wrong? Will they like it? I’m going to embarrass myself! I don’t want to do it! Is there any way I can get out of it?”
The list goes on and on, and it is very easy to add to it. Someone can mention something you did not expect (like your boss is going to be there!) and that can generate numerous more negative thoughts.
10 ways to overcome nerves before your next presentation
1. Reframe your mind
When you are feeling nervous, what are the signs? Your heart races, you visualise the future, your hands get clammy.
When you are feeling excited, what are the signs? Your heart races, you visualise the future, your hands get clammy.
Your body responds to nerves and excitement the same way. You need to reframe what your body is telling you (body stimulus) not as nerves, but as excitement.
We usually say to ourselves (and other people) “Oh my god, I’m so nervous because…”
So instead, when you find yourself getting nervous, say to yourself “This is exciting!”and then explain the reason why. For example “This is so exciting because I have the opportunity to present an exciting new idea to the rest of my team that could change the way we work!”
2. No one knows what you have written
A big fear is forgetting your lines, but remember, the audience has no idea what you’re supposed to say or if you’ve got the wording exactly right, and they don’t expect perfection either! They just want quality information delivered in an interesting way that doesn’t waste their time (or bore them out of their minds!)
It seems obvious, but not all breaths are created equally (hyperventilating is not great in this situation for example!)
So breathe deeply, mediation style. It will bring a calming effect. Take a deep breath right into your stomach for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and then breathe out slowly for 8. Repeat three more times. 4 - 7 - 8. If you are still feeling a bit nervous keep going with this breathing technique a bit longer.
4. Use up that excess adrenaline
When we get up onto the stage and look out at an audience, we see a mass of humans staring back at us, and it triggers the primal fear response system (fight, flight, or freeze). We are standing alone in open territory without a weapon to defend us!
So our body goes on high alert. It becomes coiled up chemically, ready to strike or flee. There is a huge rise in adrenaline coursing through your bloodstream. But because you are in no immediate danger (no sabre-toothed tigers ready to eat you), we have an excess amount of adrenaline in our bodies, so we need to get rid of it.
Go backstage (or outside the room if there isn't a backstage!) and start doing as many press ups as you can. The aim is to use up all that excess adrenaline. By burning it that way, calm and confidence can return (just make sure not to sweat too much! If press ups isn't your thing, try squats, lunges, star jumps, running, shaking everything out, or anything that gets you moving.
5. Drink Water
Hydration is so important, especially when you are about to do something that is somewhat stressful for you. 5 minutes before you go on, try to drink around a third of a bottle of water (500ml one, not one of those 2 litre ones!) It will help to stop your mouth from getting dry. You can always have a glass or small bottle of water on stage to drink if need be too!
6. Avoid an empty stomach
Before a presentation you may feel that you cannot eat anything. You feel nauseous. But an empty stomach can actually exacerbate anxiety. So get some healthy food into your body an hour or so before you're on, and have a snack nearby if need be. I've found a protein bar, banana, or cereal bar work quite well (just don't overeat!)
7. Find "friends" in the audience
Early on in your talk, find the "friendly" faces in the audience. Those faces that seem sympathetic (smiling, engaged, and so on). If you can find 3 or 4 people in different parts of the audience, give the talk to them.
Try to block out any of the "unfriendlies" - those people with scowls, vacant looks, or (hopefully not!) asleep. You have no idea why they might be looking at you like that (They could be hungry, need the toilet, tired, and so on). But our brains immediately go to the most negative thought "They must be so bored!" or "They hate me!" or "They hate this presentation I'm giving, why am I even here!" which derails us, bringing the nerves back. But the truth is, you have no idea what is going on in someone's head 100%, so don't try and guess! You're not a mind reader!
So ignore the "unfriendlies" and focus on the “friendlies".
8. Have a back up plan
If you’re worried about things going wrong, plan a few backup moves. You could have your notes side of stage ready to look at, or have a funny (relevant) anecdote ready to tell if technology fails you.
9. Get things into perspective
No matter what the outcome, life will continue. No one has ever died giving a presentation (although a lot of people fear it over death!) Treat it as a challenge, and a learning opportunity if it doesn't work out as you hoped. Reflect back on what you did, and the feedback from your coach and team to see what you need to improve for next time. Keep learning and keep growing.
The most important thing to realise is that that performing under pressure is a skill. You will get better at it, the more you do it. You will learn to control your nerves, and to embrace them. Failure is an action "I failed" and not an identity "I am a failure". If you fail it is your chance to learn. And remember if you don't practice, how can you ever expect to improve?
The only way to develop this (and any other) skill is to practice. There is no way around it. There are no short cuts. No practice means no skill acquisition. No one is ever too busy to practice, it’s all about priorities. So if you want to develop the skill of presenting with confidence, you need to prioritise practice.
11. BONUS TIP
Remember these two mantras:
I’VE GOT THIS
Your mind can be your greatest ally or your greatest enemy. You get to choose. Give yourself your own pep talk if need be. Repeat over and over again "This matters" and "I've got this".