How to overcome nerves when presenting

Man overcome his nerves of presenting

You’ve possibly been there: dreading the moment your name is called to present to the room, the dry mouth, forgetting your words, feeling your heart pound, and then the relief when it’s all over. In the past, I certainly could relate. I struggled with nerves when presenting and remember thinking that I would never be able to conquer the fear.

The fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is the most common phobia, with 75% thought to suffer from it. And the fear makes sense. It’s in our DNA for our own survival. Being a public speaker made us visible to the community, and if we were to say something controversial, we might have been cast out of our tribe, which was a death sentence. After all, we have evolved to depend on one another. Either for protection from other tribes or the predators in the jungle.  

However, this is no longer the case. We no longer need to worry about the tribe casting us out. In reality, we can survive even if some people reject us. The fact is that one-fifth of people will dislike you whatever you do; one fifth will love you regardless. The other three fifths (the majority) couldn’t care either way. Realising this fact can help give you some perspective around the thoughts that might be preventing you from expressing your true potential.  

Truths about fear of public speaking

One of the ways I have conquered my fear of public speaking is through understanding the five truths behind all fears. These come from the incredible book, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. I have amended these slightly to make them more relevant to public speaking.  

  1. The fear of public speaking will never go away if you are growing. One day, you might be ready to present to a group of fifty, but you will still have nerves when presenting in front of a thousand that first time. If you are growing, you will always have fear, and growing is what we all should do.  
  2. The only way to get rid of the nerves when presenting is to get out there and do it. You can’t be more confident if you never do it. You’ll get more confident after doing it, not before.
  3. If you want to feel better about yourself and your abilities, you have to go out there and present. If you sit in fear about it, you will only feel bad about not being able to speak to an audience. You will never get to experience the rush of presenting to a crowd.
  4. Not only will you feel fear when you present for the first few times, but everyone will. Even the best orators have felt that fear, including Barak Obama.
  5. Overcoming the nerves of presenting will be less damaging than the fear you will have of suffering from that same fear. If you don’t tackle the fear, it will only limit your life and cause more suffering. By tackling the fear head-on, you can’t start to overcome it and grow.  

Tips for overcoming the nerves when presenting

Research your topic

Be prepared to present by researching the topic. It will make you feel more comfortable and less worried about being wrong. Furthermore, prepare to answer questions to help your audience understand the subject as well as you. You have the knowledge, and they want to learn from you.  

When you research your topic, the presentation will flow better. We can all talk better about a subject if we know more about it. As a teacher, the best lessons were always those I had a deep understanding of and could expand on when the learners wanted to hear more.

Get organised

A presentation is more than just the knowledge you want your audience to learn. You should also carefully consider how you want to organise your speech. What should go where in the presentation (How will you begin and end)? 

Also, remember that no one wants to be in a presentation that lasts hours when the speaker can condense the information into half an hour. Given this, have your timing down to a tee.  

If you are using PowerPoint, make sure the slides help keep your place as much as they help the audience retain the information. Another way to keep your place is with notes on a card. These should be brief, not the entire speech.  

Practice your presentation plenty of times before

After you know what you want to say, the next step is to practice the presentation. The more you practice, the better acquainted you will be with the material. It will also ensure that your speech is at the right length and doesn’t have any unnecessary information that might make it run over. 

Furthermore, consider presenting to a small group of friends who could give you constructive feedback. This practice will create a real-world rehearsal that will prepare you for the real thing when you do it. 

Alternatively, record yourself presenting and watch it back. When you do this, pick out three things you like and only one or two things to improve. We all tend to focus on the negatives sometimes, especially if we aren’t confident. However, overloading yourself with too many things to change will result in very little improvement.

Visualise the perfect presentation

Every athlete, professional speaker, musician, successful business leader, and more do it. Visualising is doing a mental rehearsal of the speech, picturing the people in the room, the room, and yourself presenting.  

The best way is to alternate between visualising yourself presenting on stage and then visualising the people in front of you as though you were looking out of your own eyes.  

VIsualising will do two things. Firstly, it will help alleviate your fears because you might be imagining the worst situation. Secondly, it is another form of rehearsal that science has shown can prepare you as much as any other rehearsal. In a study, scientists discovered that athletes were more successful at doing a new manoeuvre in gymnastics if they first visualised themselves performing it.

Practice mindfulness and being in the present moment

Many of our worries come from our internal chatter, which stops us from living in the present moment. You can find out more about how to defeat mental chatter here. This internal chatter may tell you that your presentation is rubbish and that no one is interested in what you have to say anyway. However, Introducing a daily meditation ritual in your life can help silence the voice telling you this.  

By meditating daily, you will notice an impact on your well-being pretty rapidly. The reason people often have nerves when presenting is because they listen to their internal voice and disconnect from the room. This disconnection and the internal dialogue are what make everyone nervous. Therefore, regular meditation will stop you from feeling stressed, not just about this but also most things. It’s surprisingly simple to do. Just close your eyes and follow your breathing for ten minutes.  

Adopt a Growth Mindset

According to Carol Dweck, there are two mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset avoid challenges because they don’t believe they can get better. Consequently, these people are unlikely to try new things because they don’t think their abilities can improve beyond what they can already do. What’s more, they see all feedback as criticism of their current abilities. These people rarely improve because of this mindset, and their abilities are ‘fixed’.

Those with a growth mindset seek challenges because trying something new allows them to grow and develop, including overcoming nerves when presenting. As a result, these are the people that do become world-class speakers. No one is born able to present to a crowd. Those skills are acquired through practice and seeking the opportunity to improve.  

When you adopt the growth mindset, your public speaking ability will grow because you are trying new things. Additionally, you will see feedback as a way to improve, and you will continue to grow.

Get support for your speech.

There is no reason why you should do it alone. Someone asked you to present because they believe in you. Reach out for support from your manager to get help for your presentation. 

Also, join a public speaking group like Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping its members become skilful public speakers. I know from personal experience how much my ability to present has improved because of my membership. It gives its members a guided program which teaches the various aspects of public speaking.  

Celebrate when it’s over

Finally, when the presentation is over, celebrate that you have done it and recognise the improvements made between this and the last time you were presenting. And, if this was your first time, recognise that. You got in front of a crowd and presented to an audience (and never died). Not everyone dares to stand there, and you did!  

As with your rehearsal, find a few things to improve for next time. When you adopt that growth mindset, you will improve and get better.  

Coaching to overcome nerves when presenting

My final piece of advice is to get a coach who can help you with your nerves when presenting. My coaching revolves around confidence and communication as these are the things I am most passionate about as I once struggled with them myself. From my own personal journey, I know how much I held myself back, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to limit their potential. To find out more about this, why not book a free chemistry session where we can discuss your goals together.