Overcoming Presentation Nerves
While everyone knows that fear of public speaking is common, you may think that your nervousness is much worse because you get nervous just presenting to a few people. When you are speaking to a small group, it is hard to call it “public” speaking. It is just a meeting! You may think you are the only one suffering, since your coworkers don’t seem to be having the same problem.
The fact is that most people get nervous presenting at some point in their career. For the past 15 years we have been asking workshop attendees if they ever feel nervous. More often than not, the majority of hands are raised. One day I was coaching at an advertising agency where people are required to present frequently. When the HR person discovered that I had a spare hour to run a discussion, they put out an online request for who would like to attend a discussion on handling nerves? Two hours later, there were 50 people in the room.
How can this be when it seems most people around you don’t look nervous? The reason is some people don’t show outward signs of nervousness. Some people just get a little formal or soft spoken, or they speak too quickly. Some lose their personality and warmth. If you had the opportunity to ask them, they might tell you they thought they did a horrible job and they were trembling inside.
So the first step in addressing nerves is focusing on the physical signs of nerves: Do you speak too fast, too softly, do you scan the room or break eye contact and talk to the screen for too long? Do you use fillers such as um, like, sort of, kind of? Do your hands shake or do you rock back and forth or flush?
If you are not sure what makes you look nervous, take a video of yourself and take a good look at it. Pick out one area to address. For example if you fidget, don’t clasp your hands together. Instead use a one handed rest position such as putting one hand in your pocket or on a chair so you don’t trigger the fidgeting . You might also be pleasantly surprised that you are not as terrible as you think. Sometimes we are our own worst critics.
If you do see some problems, your goal should be to focus on one area at a time so it doesn’t become overwhelming. Also, don't worry about getting it perfect. Concentrate on getting it better. For example, if in your video you notice 32 ums during your five minute presentation, this will create the impression that you are not confident in your material. Work on eliminating those filler words by pausing more often. Perhaps in the first week you can eliminate 50% of them. Some people can do it in a day while others may take a month. Once you cut the fillers in half continue reducing another 50% would bring your total to 8 ums. At our starting point of 32 ums, it is safe to say that you did not come across as confident or knowledgeable …and you seemed nervous. At just 8 fillers in your presentation, no one will notice. This is simply a physical speaking habit that is creating a bad impression.
Another option is to work on addressing ums in the first minute of your presentation. The way that you start a presentation sets the tone for the entire presentation. By addressing ums in the first minute of you presentation, you can set the tone for a much better presentation even if the ums creep back in during the balance of the presentation.
Remember, it is not about perfection. It is about improvement. Trying to be perfect might be one of the mental triggers for your stress in the first place. Striving for perfection can be demoralizing and can get in the way of real progress. I realize that videoing your presentation is scary but no one is going to watch it but you. Push through the fear and you will be happy with your progress.
Take a before and after video so you can see your improvement. This alone will start to build your confidence. When you see that you can feel nervous yet project confidence, you will start to FEEL less nervous and more confident.
Co-Founder and Partner