You know that feeling when you start a presentation and suddenly feel a wave of panic, increased heartbeat, high-pitched voice, shaking hands, and very dry throat? Do not worry, you are not the only one, even experienced presenters feel the same way to some extent.
By the way, did you know that more than 90% of people had an increased heart rate and were sweating heavily when asked to give a speech? Some psychologists claim that even the fear of death is less intense than that of public speaking.
And do you know why? This goes back to prehistoric times when people feared that being watched might mean that predators would attack us and eat us alive. So, our brains also transferred this fear to the audience as we are constantly watched.
You can find a solution in the text below. But beware, this fear still helps us in the jungle or in other dangerous situations.
Fortunately, the feeling can be controlled, and this blog will teach you some tricks. Since our mind likes to play tricks on us, we can play tricks on it too, and you will learn how.
Although I have given many presentations to students, team members, clients, MBA colleagues and at conferences, the level of stage fright, panic and anxiety kept changing from high to low, and never fully disappeared. Because of this, I have attended zillions of seminars and studied tons about the subject, especially as a coach where I help others improve and control their emotional and mental state.
Only now do I dare to say that I know how to better manage stage fright or performance anxiety, whatever you may call it. Here I will share with you some of the approaches that have worked for me so far, but I am still learning. I sincerely hope you will learn something new and apply it yourself.
OK, let us get down to the nitty-gritty.
The process of overcoming stage fright can be broken down into three parts, and here are the actions you can take:
♦ Days before the presentation
♦ A few hours before the presentation
♦ During the presentation
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation.
As with many things in life, good preparation is the key to success. Preparation helps us to have things under control, and so we will have our fear under control. Preparation means not only preparing the content effectively and didactically but also choosing presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi and mastering the features of video conferencing tools such as Zoom or MS Teams if the presentation is virtual.
You should also practice using the microphone and always keep it near your mouth, as the audience may not hear you properly if you move it away from your mouth.
2. Your state is vital.
Above all, however, prepare your mental and emotional state. Remember why you are doing what you are doing, what your goal is, and who you are at this moment. The audience is there to learn something from you. Who are you to stop them from learning things you know and are willing to share?
The presentation is not about you and how smart you are, it’s about the people:
♦ whose lives you can change
♦ who you inspire to pursue their dreams
♦ who you encourage to take action
♦ who might finally understand what’s bothering them and eliminate it
Should your selfishness be the obstacle to such noble things?
3. You don’t have to be, and you are not perfect.
One of the most common causes of lack of self-confidence is the belief that you must be perfect and that everything must be perfect. Oh man, this toxic perfectionism can be really corrosive. Behind the perfectionism is actually the limiting belief that you are not good enough, and that is the mental poison.
First, try to rethink the limiting belief yourself, or if it doesn’t work, dismantle it with an NLP coach or psychotherapist.
4. For your presentation, choose to talk about things you know and like.
Never choose a topic that you are not comfortable with or well informed about. Talking about things you are not 100% sure about will be one of the biggest factors contributing to your fear, anxiety, or panic.
5. Organize the content into meaningful segments.
Be brief and specific so that everyone can follow your train of thought and so that you do not forget the order. When I list three or more steps, I tend to almost always forget one. Therefore, at least for me, I make them completely logical and visualize their sequence.
6. Find a model that you want to follow.
This could be your teacher, your neighbor, a colleague, a celebrity, or someone on YouTube. To learn more from your model systematically:
♦ Observe their behavior when presenting and see what you can apply.
♦ Then think of all the skills, knowledge, and competencies they might have to behave this way.
♦ Do a little research on how they think, what they believe in, what their values are, and what has likely blocked them in the past.
♦ And most importantly, how they feel about the role of a presenter.
As you dive deep into learning about your model, you’ll learn more about their methods for success and your fear will melt away.
7. Use an interesting story.
And do not forget to tell a good story about a person or business that had a problem you want to address. This way you will be more confident as a storyteller and the audience will be able to follow you easily. You will not see the confusion and question marks on their faces so you will be relaxed.
8. Prepare an icebreaker that is in tune with you.
Many presentation gurus and guidelines say we should open a presentation with an attention-grabbing anecdote or joke. Well, if that’s not your thing, come up with something that makes you feel like yourself and that will make you feel good. But also what your audience will respond to, such as:
♦ a simple question they can answer
♦ a joke they can understand and laugh at
♦ admitting your weaknesses.
Icebreakers help you establish an initial connection and rapport with your audience. You do not have all the time in the world, so it must be effective communication. I liked the three approaches to icebreakers from Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. They suggest you say something:
♦ Emotional or
♦ Unexpected or
By the way, did you know that you become more charismatic when you talk about three parts? Supposedly, people can usually remember three things, so if you talk about three steps, categories, and the like, they will understand you more easily and remember what you said. You see, I have said something simple and unexpected.
9. Think of the questions the audience may ask.
One of the greatest fears associated with a presentation is not knowing the answer to the questions the audience may ask you. Therefore, think of all the questions your audience might ask you in advance. Then, if you are still asked something you are not sure about or cannot remember at the moment, you can always ask if anyone in the audience knows the answer or has had relevant experience.
And of course, you can always say that you do not know the best answer now and that you will get back to the person because you know where to find it.
10. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse.
Rehearsal is crucial for your confidence because that way you have everything under control and know most of the pitfalls. It is very helpful to record short videos on your phone about the topic of your presentation or any other topic. Do these at least seven days in a row and watch yourself improve with each video. If you see and hear yourself on the video often, you’ll feel more comfortable in the role of speaker.
And you know how we block or blurt out some stupid things when we see the camera is on. Well, this feeling will also diminish.
11. PowerPoint coach is there for you.
Another fantastic feature for rehearsals in PowerPoint is the Rehearse with Coach feature in the Slideshow group, where you even get useful tips as you speak. And of course, the recording feature that lets you watch yourself give the exact presentation you are about to give. Recording yourself is also a good indicator of non-verbal communication and smiling when it’s missing or inappropriate, i.e. when you make silly faces or look too serious.
If possible, you can of course rehearse with your colleagues. This way you will have the opportunity to feel the real audience and get the best feedback possible.
12. Ask yourself what the worst thing that can happen to you is.
And then think of all the possible worst-case scenarios that occur or that you have seen in movies. Then think about how you can prevent them now. Try to be as creative as possible. To ease anxiety, also think about how you can fix the situation if your nightmares do come true. This will also help you gain more confidence simply because you will be prepared for more unexpected things.
13. Visualize yourself in the audience.
Visualizing yourself from the audience’s perspective is a very good trick because you will see yourself from the audience’s perspective and realize that you are not so bad. And you will see what you want to improve.
1. Don’t eat savory food and lots of carbs.
Especially nuts. This is important because you will not be thirsty or sleepy. These two physical states can only aggravate your mental and emotional state.
2. Drink enough water but not too much.
So drink enough to stay hydrated, but not too much so you do not have to focus on the toilet. Make sure you have some water on hand if your throat gets dry.
3. Remember the presentation, speech or any event where you were good.
It is often the case that in stressful situations we like to remember situations in which we were annoyed, did not give our best, or were dissatisfied for some other reason. These thoughts or thoughts in general highly affect our feelings. So it’s critical to do the opposite, which is to remember presentations or any other situations where you did a good job with a person or audience, were proud of yourself, and were praised by a person or audience. You can do this an hour or half an hour before the presentation and you will see your behavior change and your confidence grow.
4. Take a few deep breaths.
Immediately before the presentation, take a few deep breaths. Give yourself a number of breaths that calms you down, because counting the breaths makes you feel more relaxed and gives you the feeling that you are in control of things.
5. Visualize success.
Imagine that the presentation went well, you got applause, and everyone seems to have gotten what they came for. They are grateful for the knowledge and secrets you shared. You are bursting with pride and happiness. This success visualization will even more boost your confidence.
1. If fear persists, turn it into excitement.
This means that when you feel anxiety, you say to yourself that what you are feeling is excitement, not anxiety. And you can even say at the opening that you are excited to stand before the audience and present your topic.
2. Posture and body language.
Your emotional and mental state affects your body language, but your body also affects how you feel. In fact, you can inspire confidence by standing straight, pushing your shoulders back slightly, and opening your chest. Make sure you keep your shoulders straight because unevenness conveys indecisiveness. Try it now as you read this, and you will notice the changes in your mood.
3. Eye contact.
Make it feel like communication and not just listening and staring. Make sure you make eye contact with the audience. If that scares you too much, pick someone you feel comfortable with and make eye contact, and as you get more confident, make eye contact with the other audience members.
4. If you don’t know the answer to the question.
Take a deep breath and focus on yourself. It is extremely important not to panic, because panic or fear closes off our resources such as intelligence, experience, knowledge, thought patterns, and the like. You can also say that you need a minute to think about it and then ask yourself what the answer should be. If there is no solution, use the approaches suggested in point 9, which you can do days before the presentation.
5. Acknowledge your deficiencies and mistakes.
If you make a mistake or say something stupid, it is better to admit it immediately than to ignore it. Ignoring your mistakes or flubs can create distance between you and the audience. And the distance creates unpleasant feelings.
Did you know that Julia Roberts went from a stutterer with a fear of public speaking as a child to giving a memorable acceptance speech when she won the Best Actress Oscar® for “Erin Brockovich” in 2001?
To finish off, the best way to overcome stage fright is to come up with your own method based on the guidelines here and other resources.
Stanislavski, one of the greatest authorities in actor training said: “Create your own method. Don’t depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you! But keep breaking traditions, I beg you.”
If you liked this topic and want to learn more about business communication, you may take a look at our business communication masterclass that is approaching soon.
This blog post was not written using ChatGPT or any other form of artificial intelligence.