Racing pulse rate, sweaty palms, blood rushing to your face, butterflies in your stomach, trembling voice—if you experience any or all of these symptoms before and/or during your presentations, then you may be plagued with what is commonly known as performance anxiety. Even the most seasoned public speakers and performers admit to experiencing this from time to time.
In most cases, the fear of failure or being judged by our audience causes performance anxiety. Make no mistake—these fears are valid and perfectly normal. Identifying them is the first step in addressing them. There are things you can do before and even during your presentations which will help calm your fears. Here are 7 tips that will build your confidence and improve your on-stage presence.
1) Practice makes perfect. Ask anyone how to overcome the nervousness of presenting and most of the time you will hear, “It gets better with experience.” But if you’re new to the world of presenting and don’t have the luxury of experience, you can attempt to soothe your anxiety by practicing. If possible, practice in the same venue where you will be presenting in front of a small audience who can give honest feedback. At the very least, practice in front of a mirror and record your presentation. Practice includes rehearsing answers to possible questions, working with the same tools you will be using in your presentation, and learning everything you can about the subject matter. Come up with and practice a fall-back plan in case you commit any major blunders. Practice way more than is required (especially for an unfamiliar topic), to the point that it becomes so natural that not even a flaw will distract you from the flow.
2) Redirect your nervousness. It’s actually possible to re-channel your unwanted anxiety into something more productive like reinforcing your passion. For example, I know some presenters who can redirect their anxieties into a fast-paced speech (although not too fast), thereby seemingly increasing their credibility. Others channel this energy into more expressive gestures. These physical manifestations will build your confidence with each presentation.
3) Visualize. One technique you can use is to imagine your audience in a different light. Scan the crowd for familiar or friendlier faces and transfer your feeling of association to the tougher looking audience members. Remember, your audience can be just as apprehensive as you are and you know more about the topic than they do, which is why they are eager to listen to you.
4) Force yourself to act confidently. The two previous tips talk about the power of the mind to control the body. But who’s to say it doesn’t work the other way around? Even psychologists have found that forcing yourself to act confidently (even when you’re really not) through appropriate eye contact, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice can direct your mind to eventually follow. When the audience observes your confidence, they will be less likely to pick up on your mistakes. Think about it, would you rather listen to a confident looking speaker who commits a few errors or a stuttering presenter who says all the right things?
5) “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” This is a question I always like to ask myself whenever faced with a nerve wracking situation. When you take possible presentation outcomes to the extreme level, you will often realize that it’s not as bad as you think. The concept “self-serving bias” asserts that we tend to overestimate how much others assess us when in reality they don’t really care as much as we think.
6) Practice breathing techniques. Taking deep, slow breaths is another way to control your mind through your body. Correct breathing techniques and posture improve blood circulation and increase oxygen flow to the brain, which boosts mental faculties during a presentation. This is something you need to be conscious of until it becomes a habit. Relaxing also keeps you from being too mindful of your presentation, which is a major reason for choking.
7) Prepare your audience. In addition to self-preparation, you should prepare your audience before delving into your topic. Begin your presentation by cracking a joke or asking a question. These icebreakers help establish a rapport with your audience. Talk to them like you are talking to a friend. Remember, only one-half of the spotlight should be focused on you and your presentation; the other half should belong to your audience.
Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing. The best performers enjoy presenting in front of a crowd, not just because they love the attention, but because they also like what they’re doing. Enthusiasm is highly infectious—when you love your presentation, your audience will likewise love it. When you imagine yourself to be doing something you feel passionate about, the tips described above will come easily and naturally for you.
What techniques have you tried that worked to combat nervousness during presentations? Share with us by entering your comments below.