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How to deal with presentation nerves

What do snakes, spiders and presentations have in common?

Their ability to send ice water down our spines.

Fortunately, unless you work at a zoo or live in the wilderness, you can usually avoid the first two. However, for many of us presentations form an important part of our jobs.

Learning to overcome your presentation anxiety is key. And here are three techniques to help you.

Harness the power of positive body language

We all know the tell-tale signs of nerves in a speaker: folded arms, fidgeting fingers, and a facial expression frozen in fear. Our body language reveals our emotions.

At the same time, our brain takes cues from our bodies. If we put our bodies into a confident position, we will subconsciously feel more confident.

For face-to-face presentations, stand upright with your feet shoulders-width apart and your fingers steepled like your favourite Bond villain. For virtual, sit with your back straight and chin up.

And smile. Through the magic of the mirroring effect, this smile will make the audience smile back at. And staring at a sea of smiles is a surefire way to make you feel more relaxed. And for virtual presentations, you’ll have own face smiling back at you.

Time travel in your mind

When we are in the middle of a nerve-wracking experience, it’s difficult to get perspective. Our fear dominates us, makes us doubt ourselves, creates self-fulfilling prophecies.

One way to get out of this negativity noose is to project yourself forwards in time. That’s right. Time travel.

Imagine yourself a year into the future, looking back at this moment. Imagine a perfect presentation. Remember what you said, how you said it, how you felt.

Close your eyes and picture the warm smiles on the audiences’ faces, the words of praise afterwards, the success the presentation created. How do you feel now?

Practise your presentation strategically

Practice is the best way to neutralise nerves. But it’s important to practise in different ways.

First, practise alone. Here your aim is to become familiar with the content of your presentation.

Only when you know the content comfortably will you be able to focus on keeping your voice

and body language confident.

This practice will help you present without a script. Scripts make you appear less confident. They also stop you from making eye contact with an audience, cutting your connection with them.

Second, practise with a supportive colleague recording you on your phone. Watch it without sound. What does your body language look like? Confident or nervous? Next, listen without watching. How do you sound? Clear and melodic, or mumbling and monotonous?

Finally, practise in the same place that you will be giving the presentation. This could be a physical place, like a meeting room, or a video conferencing tool, like Microsoft Teams. Being familiar with the setting will make you feel more relaxed on the day.

So the next time you feel a sense of dread at the prospect of a presentation, remember all is not lost. Positive body language, mental time travel and practice will help you overcome your fears.

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