If the thought of speaking in public turns you into a gibbering wreck, you're not alone – far from it. More people suffer from ‘glossophobia', which is the fear of public speaking, than are afraid of ghosts! It's that common.
However, giving presentations and public speaking are required in most senior work roles. They're also part of school and university courses. So, if you want to get ahead, you need to get on top of those presentation nerves.
Right now, this may seem impossible. You can't help but imagine everything that could go wrong, from forgetting your lines to audience walk-outs. That's when your ‘flight' instinct kicks in. And once you've lost focus, of course your performance is going to suffer.
But you can beat your nerves. Like anything in life, it's simply a case of knowing what works. Presentation skills training is always helpful - but the methods you need to beat your nerves are also surprisingly simple. We've run down the top 5 here, so you can fix your public speaking fears right now.
1. Prepare thoroughly
Fear of giving a presentation leads many people to avoid it all costs. This includes not preparing for a presentation that is coming up.
It's a vicious cycle. You believe you will present badly no matter what you do, so you don't bother to prepare properly. Being unprepared affects your performance, and you continue to believe you cannot present well.
It's easy to break this cycle by preparing more thoroughly. After all, fear of giving presentations is really a fear of not being in control. What if your talk isn't good enough? What if you forget your lines? What if an audience member asks a tough question? The only way to control these unknowns is by being prepared:
Do your research. Take more time preparing your talk than you did in the past. Accept nothing less than your own very best work.
Practice. Keep practicing your presentation until you're sure you know it well.
Anticipate questions. Think about what your audience is likely to ask you, and either answer these questions in your talk or be prepared to answer them in Q&A.
The more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel about giving your presentation. And you can quiet those nervous self-doubts that race around your mind before you go on stage.
2. Accept that nerves are natural
It isn't just the nerves themselves that can damage your public speaking performance. It's also personal shame about being nervous.
You may find yourself comparing yourself to colleagues: "Sarah never gets nervous before presentations, but I'm a wreck. She must be better than me!" This comparison is very unfair to you though, because:
• Everybody gets nervous before a presentation. Even Sarah (or whoever it is). It's totally natural and you don't need to feel bad about it.
• It's fine to feel nervous. The important thing is to manage your nerves. Sarah probably uses the same methods you're learning in this article.
Even though you're now learning ways to control your nerves, you might still feel nervous before a presentation – but you will be more in control. That's exactly how it should it be.
3. Recognise what your nerves really mean
So, how do you control your nerves before and during a presentation? It's simply a case of recognising nerves for what they are: a set of instinctive mental and physical responses to stress.
Make a list of all the unpleasant feelings you get from pre-speech nerves. These might include:
Your mind racing with self-doubt.
Being hot, uncomfortable or light-headed.
Trembling or shaking.
Now it's time to re-think that these feelings really mean – namely, nothing! They're just your base instincts playing up. And, as we discussed above, they affect everyone.
Over time, you will start to recognise your nerves for what they are. Then they will start to affect you less. You can just say to yourself, "it's OK to be a little shaky and anxious right now," and then re- focus on your talk.
4. Rehearse in front of a friend
Reading about ways to stop nerves is fine. But if only there was a way to practice these methods in a safe environment. That could also help you be more prepared for your presentation, as suggested in our first tip.
Well, thankfully there is!
Make some time to practice your delivery in front of a friend, a mirror, even your cat! This has lots of great benefits:
You'll increase familiarity with your script, making you more confident and less nervous on the day.
You could get some useful feedback from your friend, which can help you improve your script and delivery.
You'll confirm that you can in fact deliver your presentation effectively, again boosting your confidence.
As Hollywood actor Donald Pleasance once said, "All the real work is done in the rehearsal period." Make time for rehearsal, and your nerves will give way to confidence.
5. Allow yourself some mistakes
So far, we've focused on how to control your pre-presentation nerves. But what about nerves that bubble up during your talk?
Mid-presentation nerves usually appear when you feel things are going badly. You might have fluffed a sentence, or said something wrong. Suddenly, your nerves spill over and you're talking too fast, or forgetting your lines.
The best way to stop these nerves is to accept that mistakes are OK.
All the greats make mistakes. Just look at these famous quotes:
"Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them." – Bruce Lee
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." – Oscar Wilde
"Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes." – Vincent van Gogh
Remember that even the best people make mistakes, and your mid-presentation nerves will subside. Take a breath, smile – and carry on!
Ready to make a change?
You can start using these incredibly simple methods to control your presentation nerves today.
How far they take you is up to you. Yes, some people might naturally feel more at home behind the podium than you. But with these methods and some practice, you'll soon be presenting with confidence and poise.
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