Overcoming presentation nerves: practical advice

London, 24th November 2017 - Nerves: add the right quantity for better presentations
Very few people are immune from presentation nerves. Indeed I’d say you need a little nervous energy to help you perform properly. Don’t expect to get rid of presentation nerves entirely. Without any nervous energy you’re in danger of giving a flat performance. There are though ways in which you can manage them so you at least sleep reasonably well in the lead up to your presentation.
Preparation, or more accurately lack of it, is the biggest cause of presentation nerves. If you know you haven’t prepared well, frankly you deserve to be nervous of what lies ahead. The key is to apply almost military attention to the preparation phase. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare your material and your presentation. Too many people waste time thinking and talking about what they’ve got to do without getting on with it.
My advice is that where possible, you ought to plan to be ready to give your presentation three to four days prior to the big event. The night before you can just have a couple of read throughs, and then do your best to relax. Few of us are able to turn up to a presentation and speak off the top of our heads, or at least to do that effectively. Planning and preparation are essential.
Ian Thorpe, Australia’s most successful Olympian, was asked what made him such a great swimmer. Whilst he acknowledged he had natural talent, he could not emphasise enough the importance of practice. He said that when he took his marks, he knew he had practised more than anyone else in the race. It gave him confidence, and the belief that he had done his very best. It is simple advice: the more you practise for your presentation, the more confident you will feel. And I mean literally delivering your presentation out loud, as if for real, to colleagues or someone understanding at home.
As far as possible visualise the setting for your presentation. Visualise how you might feel. Visualise the moments before you present. Feel your heart pounding. Take some deep breaths. Smile. Introduce yourself. Deliver your opening line. Pause. Breathe. Smile. Continue. Repeat this little exercise as much as you can.
Try and then think about why you feel nervous.
  • Do you fear that you will forget your presentation? Well make sure you have comprehensive notes with you.
  • Do you think the audience will get bored? Keep your presentation concise.
  • Do you think the audience will interrupt or object? Visualise the questions you don’t want to get and prepare an answer.
  • Do you simply doubt if you’re good enough? We all have self-doubt, some more than others. Think about what you’ve achieved in life to date. No doubt you are highly skilled at what you do, even if presenting fills you with fear. You don’t have to be brilliant. you just have to be you. Follow my 3Ps, and those nerves will help you deliver a first class presentation.
If you’ve got this far I’d like to reward you. Take a look at this 11 minute presentation given at TED by Chris Jordan. It is one of the best I have ever seen.