I have recently been 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 is taking its toll on them emotionally and psychologically because they feel nervous and uncomfortable standing up in front of a group of people. Let us be honest, we are not going to turn this around with a tips sheet. We form our beliefs in an instant and spend many years re-enforcing them for good or ill. That is why the programme will be modular, with time in between modules 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.

Mindset – When I was much younger and did not know any better, I dreaded making presentations. I would have a running commentary going through my head saying things like:

·        “Don’t drop your notes.”

·        “Don’t make a fool of yourself.”

·        “Don’t go blank.”

·        “Don’t blush.”

But our minds do not handle negative messages very well. We unconsciously delete the “don’t” bit and focus on the rest. Want proof?

Don’t think of a pink elephant!

I would like to bet, that you immediately pictured a pink elephant, didn’t you? You deleted the don’t. So, in my case my mind was hearing:

·        “Drop your notes.”

·        “Make a fool of yourself.”

·        “Dry up.”

·        “Blush!”

To overcome this, make a note of your negative, automatic thoughts and change them into more helpful ones. For example:

·        “Your notes are organised and numbered.”

·        “The audience members are supportive and want you to do well.”

·        “You are well prepared.”

·        “You are feeling calm and relaxed.”

If you are wondering about the use of the word “you” rather than “I”, some research suggests talking to yourself in the third person, using “you” or your name, is more effective than using the first person “I”. Try using this method for a concentrated time, assess the results, and then try speaking to yourself in the first person for a time and see which one works best for you.

Mental rehearsal – Many coaches and trainers recommend seeing yourself delivering a perfect presentation. What I find is that, for some people, it is more effective to start by imagining the presentation with the things that you are worried about. Imagine these things are happening and visualise yourself dealing with them, calmly and confidently. For example, if you fear going blank, visualise going blank, pausing, taking a sip of water to gather your thoughts, and then continuing. If you fear losing your place or missing a big chunk of the presentation, visualise that and use a strategy, such as having the audience turn to the person next to them and discuss key learning for them so far, while you go through your notes and regroup.

Engage early – If you are unnerved 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, an aha, or a response to a question, it breaks the ice and helps you to relax and build 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?

Julie Kay

Julie Kay is the founder of JK Leadership Development Ltd. She is a Professional Certified Coach (ICF) and an Ashridge Accredited Executive Coach (Ashridge/Hult International Business School). She works with fast-growing medium-sized businesses often in STEM-related industries. She particularly enjoys supporting technical and operational experts to increase their self-awareness, achieve results, and build strong trusting relationships with those around them.