3 Steps to Presenting with Confidence and Composure

I’m putting together a new programme to help people with their fear of making presentations.  The clients are technically savvy and have been making competent presentations and achieving their desired outcomes, so why do they need training? Well, like many people it’s taking its toll on them emotionally and psychologically because they feel nervous and uncomfortable standing up in front of a group of people. Let’s be honest we aren’t going to turn this round with a tips sheet. We form our beliefs in an instant and spend many years re-enforcing them for good or ill. That’s why the programme will over two days with time in between for experimentation, practice and reflection. However, I do have some suggestions that you can apply instantly to calm your nerves, if this topic strikes a chord with you.


When I was much younger and didn’t know any better I dreaded making presentations. I would have a running commentary going through my head saying things like “I mustn’t drop my notes” “I don’t want to make a fool of myself” “I hope I don’t blush.”  But our minds don’t handle negative messages well. We unconsciously delete the “don’t” bit and focus on the rest. Want proof?

Don’t think of a pink elephant!

I’d like to bet you immediately pictured a pink elephant didn’t you? You deleted the don’t. So in my case my mind was hearing, “drop my notes” “make a fool of myself” “blush!” To overcome this, make a note of your negative automatic thoughts and change them into more helpful ones. E.g. “my notes are organised and numbered” “the audience are supportive and want me to do well” “I am feeling calm and relaxed”

Mental rehearsal

Many coaches and trainers recommend seeing yourself delivering a perfect presentation, and if this works for you, go for it. What I find is that for some people it’s more effective to start by imagining the presentation with the things you are worried about, actually happening, and visualising yourself dealing with them calmly and confidently. For example, if you fear drying up, visualise drying up and you pausing, taking a sip of water to gather your thoughts and then continuing. If you fear losing your place or missing out a big chunk of the presentation, visualise that, and using a strategy such as having the audience turn to the person next to them and discussing a key learning for them so far, while you go through your notes and regroup.

Engage early

If you are scared at the thought of a sea of faces looking at you, plan to engage the audience early. When you get a smile, a nod of recognition, a ‘aha’, or a response to a question, it breaks the ice, helps you to relax and builds rapport. Getting even minor interaction from the start is much more energising and effective for you and for your audience.

What do you do to calm your nerves before and during presentations?

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7 Responses to 3 Steps to Presenting with Confidence and Composure

  • Personally, I welcome questions with open arms as it shows I’m engaging with my audience and they are interested enough to want to know more – result! If I can’t answer a question immediately, I will throw it back to the audience, “Anyone else care to answer that, or have thoughts on that..?” because (a) it keeps the rest of the audience engaged and it’s not just a personal conversation between myself and the asker (b) the asker and I might learn something new and get a feel for who else is in the audience (c)it gives me a bit of time to think of something and something new to respond to! If after all that we still haven’t got the answer, it’s a great opportunity to collect business cards and say you will get back to those interested within 24 hours.

  • i ve learnt a lot about public presentation 4rm ur article…tanks a whole lot

  • To make yourself less nervous think about your audience – who are they and what are they likely to know about your subject? In many situations the audience will know much less than you do and will assume anything you say to be words of wisdom! They may even be sitting there worried that they will be put on the spot somehow.

    I agree that confidence in your subject matter & preparation is key to how you feel – but don’t feel that you have to know everything. We live in a world with increasing volumes of information. Once upon a time a ‘subject expert’ might be expected to have read the major works on their subject. Nowadays, with information being published electronically round the clock all over the world, no one human being can know all there is to know about anything.

    Have a strategy to deal with questions you can’t answer on the spot – can answers be emailed later, posted on a blog etc? That will allow you to say ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that’ (or similar) with confidence! And smile.

  • One common fear can revolve around the possibility of being asked a question from the audience that you can’t answer. You can address this in your preparation for the presentation by going through every point you are going to make, and asking yourself ‘so what?’, if you can’t find a good answer to that then take that part out, or change it. Not only will it help you feel confident that you know your subject matter well, and can talk widely around it, but it will also highlight parts of your presentation which may be superfluous and can be removed; this will ensure your final presentation is well focussed. Having confidence in your material goes a long way to having confidence in yourself.

    • Thanks for contributing Vanessa. Yes, I love the “so what” question. Useful in so many different contexts. I particluarly like your comment about having confidence in your material leading to having confidence in yourself.

    • Fab tip, Vanessa, I like it! It’s a great principle for any form of writing, thanks for sharing.

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