First impressions "How should i open my presentation?" is a question we get asked often.…
Every speaker will have some nerves: it goes with the territory. So, how do you deal with nerves when presenting? The best way to deal with nerves is good preparation and practice. Plus, experience; the more you speak to groups, the less nervous you will be.
Nerves typically come from a feeling that ‘I’m not going to able to cope with this very well, or, maybe, at all!” In order to reduce those feelings, you can prepare well.
What does good preparation look like? We have 3 key questions that we invite you to answer as you start your preparation. These are explained in more detail in another blog. Here is the summary:
Three key questions to ask yourself to help you deal with nerves when presenting:
1. Who is your audience?
The essential question here is, what are they expecting from your talk? How well do you know them, as a group or individually? And how well do they know you? Do they like, respect and trust you? The answers to these questions will start to point you in the right direction of what to deliver to your audience. Even if you don’t intend to give them what they expect, it’s helpful that you understand what they might be expecting and to be able to respond to a likely question from them: ‘but you haven’t told us about…”
2. What do you want to achieve?
In other words, what’s your point? Any business talk will ask the audience to either, do or know something differently, or to think or feel something. The clearer you can be in articulating what you want them to do, the easier the preparation and the better the presentation. In my experience it’s often at this stage that my nerves turn to excitement as I realise I have the opportunity to make a change in their thinking.
3. How long do you have for the presentation?
Although this is a simple question, it has bigger ramifications. So, if you’ve only been given 10 minutes to speak, you’d better be very well prepared, than if you’ve got an hour. And does that time include a Q and A (Question and Answer period?) And what if the meeting is running late and they cut your time in half as you walk in? it’s easy to ruin a good talk by running over the allotted time: it’s easily and often done. And the risk of that can be lessened by good preparation and practice: by your knowing how long it takes to say what you want to say.
Give yourself time for the preparation. If you’re not used to preparing or speaking it’s tempting to leave the preparation to the last minute. If you do this you’re not giving yourself the best chance of how to deal with the nerves of presenting.
As soon as you know you’ll be speaking, whether that’s tomorrow, or in 2 months’ time, start your preparation. Again we cover this in more depth in another blog. Give yourself the time to get into your topic and give it some more thought; give yourself the time to find the stories and examples that will bring it to life.
Practise, practise & then practise some more…
And then practise. That means getting on your feet and speaking the words out loud, even if it’s just to a chair or the cat: and preferably to at least one other person who knows what you’re preparing for.
You need to practise until you know it very well. Not word for word, you’re not giving a Shakespearian speech, but well enough that you know the points, stories, examples, and facts you want to say, and the order in which you’ll say them.
Your practice, out loud, will help you see how the whole things flows; do all the stories, examples, facts and sub points make sense – do they all support your major point? And your practice also allows you to see if you did have to give your talk in half the time, what you could leave out, or maybe say in another way.
By the way, while you’re practising I suggest you adopt a strong speaking position. There are 3 keys to looking confident, even though you may not feel it. We have covered these in another blog and here is the summary.
The 3 keys to appearing confident:
1. Stand Strong
First, stand strong – weight equally on both feet, about hip-width apart. This is a great way to start your talk, sending a signal of strength and confidence to the audience, no matter what you’re actually feeling.
2. Hands & arms
Second, let your hands and arms go. Don’t fold your arms or keep your hands in your pockets – just let them be as they naturally want to be.
3. Look at the audience
Third, scan the audience, very briefly before you speak. Just for a moment stand strong and gaze around at the audience with a warm smile, saying ‘hello’ with your eyes. Then you can start speaking
And please have a good opening to your talk, that you know by heart, for the first minute or so, so you can look at the audience without having to look at slides or notes. That will give you confidence and reduce the nerves.
Often, audiences will not be surprised if the speaker is a little nervous; most of us have been in that position and will have some sympathy. So, even if you do have nerves and you believe it’s showing, just get on with it, and they will probably pass. And your audience will think more of you because you got on with it.
Get more experience of speaking. Volunteer to speak at meetings and conferences. If a speaker needs to be introduced or thanked at a meeting, volunteer to do that. This is how great speakers are made; they get used to speaking. Like driving. All new drivers are nervous, because they haven’t yet got the experience and the confidence that comes from driving many miles.
And it may be that your nerves create a dry mouth for you. I understand and can sympathise. My own first experience of a dry mouth was years ago, when I literally ‘dried up’: I had nothing more to say to my Board of Directors after 3 minutes of a 20-minute presentation. That memory still lives with me and very occasionally I will get a dry mouth when I’m presenting to a big group. Now I keep a few small mints in my pocket and keep one in the side of my mouth before I start to speak. That does the trick: it keeps the juices flowing until I’ve got going properly.
And there are other techniques, such as focussing on your ending your talk and getting to sit down again. Just imagine that you’ve finished your talk and the audience loved it, giving you much applause. Keep this in mind while you prepare, and on the train on the way to the venue.
Getting physically active before you speak can help get the blood flowing. Do some running on the spot in a corridor away from the arena – you don’t want to appear out of breath, but just enough to create some physical energy and a spring in your step.
I remember being very nervous as a trainer starting a new executive training course that I hadn’t run before and my boss told me of the old saying ‘and this too shall pass’. It was helpful as I realised that by lunchtime I would be up and running with it.
If you work in a challenging environment where people are challenged on their knowledge or understanding of the topic, then be prepared for that. In your practice get a friend or, a colleague whom you trust, to put some difficult questions to you about your talk, as though they were a member of the audience. Maybe, even, get them to challenge you while you’re speaking. Something like: ‘I don’t believe you!’ This is a strong challenge and more than most of us will experience. The response is to pause, and then to ask a question: “that’s interesting; what makes you say that?” This puts the onus back on the challenger to explain him or herself, giving you time to think of a fuller response.
So, in answer to the question how do I deal with nerves when presenting, find out what works for you. Do enough of the thinking, the preparation, the practice and the rehearsal to lose most of the nerves. Maybe even enjoy being a little nervous, as you would when you first drive a car in a strange city; but know that you can do it, and that it will be fine!
But what do you do with your nerves? Remember that Mark Twain commented that all great speakers were poor speakers once. And even the great speakers will still have nerves. The question is, do you let them hold you back, or do you use them to help you create a great talk?