Nervous About Presenting?
Standing in front of a class and delivering a presentation—on anything, really—can be absolutely nerve-wracking. Very few are “naturals,” and even those who seem comfortable may be quite anxious on the inside. It is far more natural to be nervous for a presentation than calm and collected! Fortunately, with a little practice, we can harness that nervous energy and transform it into enthusiasm.
First things first, you must know the material. In fact, you should know the material plus a little extra. You do not need to be an expert on the subject, but knowing just a little extra will give you a sense of expertise and an accompanying confidence boost. You never want to provide every last detail anyway, because audiences are limited in how much they can learn in one sitting. Thoughtful summary and repetition are far more powerful ways of creating a lasting impact than providing a list of facts.
Okay, so you know the topic. You have practiced the material. Now it’s your turn—are you ready?
Have you been told to “relax” when you were nervous? I am willing to bet you couldn’t, and maybe you even got more nervous. The “relax” command is problematic for a few reasons:
- A person actively engaged in presenting is not relaxing. Presenting requires physical, mental, and emotional engagement; it is the opposite of relaxation.
- The “relax” command causes mental stress on the presenter because the body will not be fooled. It knows it should not relax, so it will not listen if you tell it to.
- As we try to follow this seemingly reasonable advice, and fail (because it is impossible), we suffer the emotional impact of failure and lose confidence, which makes us more nervous!
Instead, “Do less”
Because it is action-oriented, the “do less” piece of advice is much easier to follow. Whereas the “relax” command signals stopping, this command says, “keep going, but shift gears.” It also keeps the focus on our concrete outward actions rather than our internal state, which can be a jumble of thoughts and feelings we don’t quite understand.
The check-in is perhaps the most powerful presentation technique we can use because it directly benefits both the presenter and the audience. You can use it as often as you need. Here’s how:
- Stop talking
- Affirm your physical and mental well-being (you can think little phrases like “I’m fine” or “this is going well”)
- Resume your presentation
Taking this moment for self-assurance works wonders on your mind. The problem presenters face is that our evolutionary biology has not quite caught up with modern life and still forces a “fight or flight” response to the emotional stress of presenting. No matter how smart or savvy we make ourselves, the presence of adrenaline and feelings of stress can undo much of our hard work. However simple it may seem, the check-in helps align the body and mind and keeps you performing to the best of your abilities.
This practice also benefits the audience. Presentations are a flurry of new information and ideas that take time to absorb and understand. By pausing, you allow the audience time to grasp what you have just said and perhaps formulate questions or comments for later. Furthermore, the pause can grab the audience’s attention and stimulate interest in what you say next.
I could not conclude a discussion on presenting without a nod to Amy Cuddy and her marvelous TED talk on the science of posture. Her research showed that posture can cause dramatic shifts in our hormone levels, which have snowballing effects on our emotions, confidence, and the way we are perceived by others. Watch the full talk here—trust me, it’s worth it!
About the author Chris Cotteta is a writing, reading, and math tutor at TutorDelphia. He recently graduated from the Fox School of Business with a B.B.A. in Marketing. As a Tutor Coordinator at Fox’s Business Communication Center, he managed a team of undergraduate writing tutors and worked with professors to develop resources for tutoring, ESL tutoring, and presentations. In his spare time, Chris enjoys playing classical guitar and hand-crafting sodas.