By Emanuela Giangregorio
Delivering successful presentations is an important skill for many of us to be effective at our jobs. Many people that ask for my help have to deliver powerful presentations to win new business, and what gets in the way ? Nerves! Symptoms of presentation anxiety include:
- Profusely sweating, first noticed as lightly sweaty palms
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Cracking voice
- Tunnel vision
For some people, the state of anxiety is so bad it goes the next step further into a panic attack. Being nervous in advance of an important presentation is actually a good thing – the extra adrenaline is what you need to stay sharp and focused. Mark Twain said “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” So, nerves are good… but only if you remain in control of your emotional state and that state is a resource to you.
What is nervousness? It has its roots in one of our core emotions: fear. What are nervous presenters fearful of?
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of loss of control
- Fear of being powerless in front of powerful people
- Fear of embarrassment
- Fear of failure
- Fear of “what will they think of me?”
- Fear of being nervous and it showing
A note on irrational fear – when the fear is disproportional to the actual threat. For example, I experienced an irrational fear the last time I went hiking in the Drakensburg mountains in South Africa… I was walking along the path, mindful of snakes because we were warned that this was the time of year that snakes are out sunning themselves on the paths. As I was walking, I looked up to marvel at the scenery and when I next looked down I saw a snake! I froze and the world became a blur. Every muscle in my body tensed up. When I took a deep breath and looked again, I am embarrassed to say, the “snake” was actually a stick. Very often we are so scared of something and fully believe that it will manifest, we believe it into our reality. Think about this: 95% of the things we fear the most never manifest.
We all have a built-in “fight or flight” response. This was most useful back in the days when we were cave dwellers and had to protect ourselves from the environment. If a sabre tooth tiger approached, our fight-or-flight response would kick in… stand dead still and prepare to fight if necessary or run for the cave. Although we have evolved over the years, our fight-or-flight response has remained embedded in our psyche. Sometimes it serves us well, sometimes not. For example, if it was indeed a snake on the path, my conditioned fight-or-flight response would have served me well.
Presentation nervousness is largely an irrational fear. The fear (e.g. of not being able to answer their questions or not successfully making the sale) is disproportional to the threat. So, if I wasn’t able to answer all their questions, would they hold a gun to my head? Most likely not, so why am I shaking and sweating? I have an irrational fear….or I am in a hot country with no air-conditioning!
Here are some tips to help you get back in control and manage presentation anxiety.
- Accept that you are nervous
The best way to take your attention away from your nervousness is to accept you are nervous. Most people are aware of their nervousness, but they then become so concerned that they are nervous and what others might think of it, that it gets their full attention. The more they concentrate on not sweating, the more they sweat. The more they concentrate on not blushing, the more they blush. The more they concentrate on not shaking, the more they shake. Why does this happen? Simple rule… where attention goes, energy flows. The more you give attention to something, the more powerful its manifestation.
Just accept that you are nervous and not give it more attention. Change your self-talk from…Oh my goodness, I am so nervous, this is terrible, what will they think of me? Oh no I am blushing and sweating, I bet they can see, this is soooo embarrassing!”
to….“OK, so I’m nervous. Loads of people get nervous, and probably most of the people in my audience probably get nervous too. Now, what are the top 5 points I want them to remember from my presentation?”
- Practice deep breathing
Most often when we get nervous our breathing becomes more and more shallow. This essentially means that we’re getting less oxygen to our brain, which in turn means we cannot think straight and may even start feeling feint. Deep breathing before and during your presentation is essential – not only to control your nervousness but also to remain centered, grounded, in control, and to give you time to think of the next point you want to make.
Before the presentation, go somewhere private and take a deep, slow breath through your nose, imagining the breath is coming in through your nose all the way down into your belly. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Then take a deep breath and cough it out. Do the breathe-in-breathe-out-breathe-in-cough-out routine three times.
During the presentation, get into the habit of taking a deep breath whenever you have an opportunity. Example opportunities: (i) just before you start your introduction, (ii) when someone asks you a question, (iii) when creating a purposeful 2 second silent pause in your presentation.
- Get your physiology right
There is a direct link between our physiology and our psychology. If I’m not feeling that great, I’m mostly likely to have a stooped-over posture and closed body language. Try this: sit down and bend all the way forward so that your head is on your knees. Think of something unpleasant or sad and feel the feelings that go with that thought. When you feel you have captured that feeling, stand up as straight as you can, shoulders back, take a deep breath and put a broad smile on your face. Try and feel that sad feeling whilst your physiology is in this open posture. Can’t do it! Brain says “My body language is looking and feeling good, I can’t access that thought and emotion fully until I allow my body language to match it.”
Another way to do is to think about the last time you felt really great. Access that feeling and magnify it. Hear your favourite up-beat tune and further magnify the great feeling inside. Walk tall and smile!
- Structure your presentation so that you can have interaction early
A good way to get over your nervousness is to ask a question of the audience relatively early in your presentation. For example, if I give a presentation to a prospective client to sell our in-company training solutions, once I have introduced myself and what the presentation is about, I could ask “In percentage terms, how much do you think participants at a 2-day public course typically retain one month after the training?” Whilst they get involved in answering, I have time to take a sip of water, take a deep breath and take a checkpoint on their level of engagement in my presentation. We will then have a 1-2 minute dialogue about this before I switch back into formal presentation mode. It’s a great way to build rapport (people do like to get involved generally) and to take attention away from being nervous in a presentation to facilitating a dialogue.
- Have something to hold on to
Rather than not knowing what to do with your hands, use one hand to gesture and have something else in the other. This could be your remote slide changer, a pen or anything small that you can feel in your hand. Having something to hold on to keeps you grounded as you go about presenting and staying one step ahead in terms of the next thing you’re going to say.
- Be Prepared, Be Prepared, Be Prepared
So many times I have seen people get nervous at presentations purely because they have not prepared sufficiently and then start feeling out of control and concerned that they will not stay on top of their game. Whether your presentation is 10 minutes or 1 hour, always prepare. If you can, go to the room beforehand so that you become familiar with the layout. Find out who is going to be in your audience and consider the various reactions and potential questions. Have answers ready for all those potential questions. Know your material well so that you’re not focusing on trying to remember what to say next but rather on reading the audience and staying one step ahead.
I made a huge mistake recently in giving a presentation to a prospective client. I anticipated the questions they would ask and left it at that. I did not rehearse my answers. One of those questions did come up, and I wasn’t surprise since I anticipated it. What did surprise me though is that my answer was completely inadequate and since this was a key issue for them, I lost the sale.
No matter how experienced you are, always prepare fully.
Want to learn more tips on how to deliver powerful presentations, especially when you are pitching for new business? Presenting and pitching for new business can be exciting and thoroughly enjoyable. Join me at my course in Singapore on 9th May 2019. In just one day, I will help you develop your confidence and competence in presenting the perfect pitch. You will leave with a toolbox of techniques, practice and improved confidence. Click here to find out more.