How to battle anxiety before that big presentation

Public speaking drives us to expose ourselves to people that matter to our success. It is not surprising that it is one of the greatest fears

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Jan 21, 2019 06:23:55 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Almost everyone has encountered that nervousness before a presentation, big or small. You feel this sensation in your stomach. Your breathing gets shallow. Your chest feels heavy. Even though you have prepared, you are certain that you will mess this up in front of all the stakeholders.

The classic fight, flight or freeze response is the body’s automatic system built-in through the evolutionary process, designed to protect us from any threat of danger. Although it originated in times of stress and enabled us to flee or fight in the face of predators, in business, the threats to our well-being are mostly psychological. However, our bodies fail to differentiate between the two. Because public speaking offers us the opportunity to expose ourselves in front of people that matter to our success, it is not surprising that it is one of the greatest fears.

You may struggle then to fight against such primal instructs; here's how you can overcome presentation anxiety.

The first and best way to overcome presentation anxiety is to prepare well. This does not mean just preparing your content and delivery. Make sure you have the lay of the land clear in your mind – i.e., the conference room, the technical equipment, the profile of the audience and so on. Before any leadership development workshop, I check the room before the scheduled time and go over the details of the participants. Nervousness is triggered easily by surprises; while there will always be some surprises (what is the fun otherwise!), you can reduce the number and impact.

I have found there are no shortcuts around this. Do whatever it takes to practice your content and delivery so well that there is no other way but to feel confident about it. The more confident you feel, the less nervous you are bound to get before the big day.

Here are a few tips that help: » Practicing in front of a mirror
» Making cue cards
» Recording what you have to say and listen to it over and over again while walking or doing other things
» Pose difficult questions to yourself that the audience may ask and try answering them.

Try this visualisation exercise. Imagine yourself giving a great presentation. Neuroscience has proved that the brain sometimes has difficulty distinguishing between actual experiences and imagined ones; use that fact to your advantage. Imagine every minute of the presentation in great detail. What will it feel like, smell like, look like? How will you begin? What will the audience look like? Imagine the success of your presentation. We always feel more comfortable with things we are already familiar with.

In this situation, nervousness is caused by many fears that decide to show up together. It could be the fear of being judged, fear of failure or the fear of letting people down including yourself. Know that you are here to serve the audience, and go in with the best intention for them. Simultaneously, think that the audience wants what’s best for you even though that is sometimes hard to believe. Know that even if you fall flat on your face, you will get up and make a joke and make people laugh. You want them to get something out of your presentation that you are there to offer.

And finally, get comfortable with uncertainty. No one can have total control over any situation. At some point, you have to trust that you have done all that you can to prepare, and leave it at that.

The author is a Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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