Overcoming presentation nerves

Nerves affect all of us, no matter how experienced we are at presenting; the secret is how you deal with your fear. Nervousness can strike at many points in a presentation, such as at the beginning, if you feel the audience has slipped away from you, or later if you’ve lost your place or if your memory betrays you.

We’ve identified a few pointers to help you avoid being overcome with the nerves next time you give a presentation. 

Prepare mentally

Visualisation is the formation of mental visual images. It is an excellent way to prepare your mind before a presentation. There are several types of visualisation:

  • Receptive visualisation: Relax, clear your mind, sketch a vague scene, ask a question, and wait for a response. You might imagine you are on the beach, hearing and smelling the sea. You might ask, “Why can’t I relax?”, and the answer may flow into your consciousness.
  • Programmed visualisation: Create an image, giving it sight, taste, sound, and smell. Imagine a goal you want to reach, or a healing you wish to accelerate.
  • Guided visualisation: Visualise again a scene in detail, but this time leave out important elements. Wait for your subconscious to supply missing pieces to your puzzle. Your scene could be something pleasant from the past.

The process for effective visualisation

  • Sit or lie down in a quiet place, and close your eyes softly.
  • Scan your body, seeking tension in specific muscles. Relax those muscles as much as you can.
  • Form mental sense impressions. Involve all your senses; sight, hearing, small, touch and taste.
  • Use affirmations. Repeat short, positive statements and avoid negatives such as “I am not tense”; rather, say “I am letting go of tension.” Use present tense and positive language. As an example:
  1. Tension flows from my body
  2. I can relax at will
  3. I am in harmony with life
  4. Peace is within me

Physical relaxation techniques

People who are nervous tend to breathe many short, shallow breaths in their upper chest. Breathing exercises can alleviate this. You can do most breathing exercises anywhere. Below are some exercises that will assist you in relaxing:

  • Breathing exercises: Deliberately controlling your breathing can help a person calm down. Way to do this include: breathing through one’s nose and exhaling through one’s mouth, breathing from one’s diaphragm, and breathing rhythmically.
  • Meditation: Meditation is a way of exercising mental discipline. Most meditation techniques involve increasing self-awareness, monitoring thoughts, and focusing.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): PMR is a technique of stress management that involves mentally inducing your muscles to tense and relax. PMR usually focuses on areas of the body where tension is commonly felt, such as the head, shoulders, and chest area. It’s a way to exercise the power of the mind over the body.
  • Visualisation: Visualisation is the use of mental imagery to induce relaxation. Some visualisation exercises involve picturing a place of serenity and comfort, such as a beach or a garden. Other visualisation exercises involve imagining the release of anger in a metaphorical form. An example of this latter kind of visualisation is imagining one’s anger as a ball to be released to space.

Appearing confident in front of the crowd

In addition to everything we’ve discussed, below are some tips for maintaining your confidence when you’re presenting:

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Practice your words along with your visuals
  • Have a full “dress rehearsal”
  • If you are travelling to a new site out of town, try to arrive early in the evening and locate the site. That way you won’t be stressed in the morning, trying to locate the venue.

Find out more

This article draws on content from the ISOC courses Advanced Public Speaking and Presentation Skills (2 days) and Presentation Training and Public Speaking (2 days)

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