- Academic Skills
- Speaking and presenting
Managing stress for oral presentations
Much stress is caused by not feeling in control of a situation. These tips and ideas are aimed at giving you a greater sense of control over the oral presentation context.
Here are some things you might try before presenting – most of these things can be done well before you actually get up and talk in front of an audience.
- Read it, practise talking about it with people.
- The more you get to know it, the more comfortable you’ll feel presenting on it.
- When you know it more, you’ll care more about it and become passionate and ‘feel’ the content – that’s when great presentations happen!
- Oral presentation skills revolve around voice (tone, pace, pauses, word stress), language (content, functional), body language (gestures, face, movement). They all affect engagement and message.
- You can specifically work on these things.
- If you speak too fast, practise slowing down purposefully.
- If you are monotone, then purposefully practise over‐toning.
- Think about who they are and what they expect to hear from you; adjust accordingly.
- A lot of audience satisfaction comes from the perception that you have met their expectations.
- Take confidence in knowing that the audience members want to listen to you – they are interested.
- Also take confidence from their perception of you – they see you as the expert on what you are presenting on, or at least knowledgeable. You are starting from a positive position.
Change your perspective on how you are feeling from nervousness to excitement. Enjoy this!
- Turn negative thoughts into positive ones. E.g. from ‘This will be terrible!’ to ‘I’m going to do the best I can.’
- Visualise your audience, see yourself talking to them, see them smiling, see yourself happy as you finish.
- Be ready – have your slide advancer, slides, water, notes, handouts all ready to go.
- Familiarise yourself with the venue or platform (e.g. Zoom) early. Make sure it’s ready and you can use the technology.
- Know what to do if things go wrong (e.g. technical issues – don’t panic; get support from your instructor).
Before you being, do something you know relaxes you and puts you in a happy zone. E.g. put some headphones on and listen to music you like, read a book, play a game you like on your phone.
- We tend to use things such as coffee or energy drinks when we’re feeling down, tired or stressed, but these are counter‐productive in this situation.
- Some nerves are actually good (See tip 16 below), but when stressed, we are over‐stimulated. We want to be in control, not even more over‐stimulated, so avoid these ‘energy boosters’.
It may help you to realise that the main thing is actually not all about you, it’s the message that people are coming to hear – focus on that. They’re not there to judge you, they want to hear what you have to say.
Break down the task. Treat the presentation as a series of small chunks or parts, not a single big thing. This helps you to focus on smaller, more manageable sections and helps you with pacing and sequencing.
These can be tried at any time, including during the presentation.
Try focused slow breathing technique. Breathe in, hold for three beats, breathe out slowly, think only about the breathing. Do this until your heart has calmed.
Sit comfortably or lie down. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Slowly breathe out through your mouth, then slowly breathe in through your nose, concentrating on keeping your chest still while expanding your stomach.
Exercise different muscles especially around the neck, shoulders and back to relieve tension.
Roll your shoulders to loosen the muscles, gently swivel your head in circles, first one way, then the other.
A couple of drops of natural lavender on your wrists provides a calming feeling and is a recognised stress relief.
- There is a thing called ‘performance anxiety’. We actually need some nerves to perform well – entertainers and athletes are great examples.
- Accept that you will have some nerves and that’s not a bad thing. If the anxiety becomes excessive (i.e. it blocks the message), then you need to try some of the things listed here.
These strategies are things you might do as you are presenting.
You need to monitor that the audience is with you but try to use the people smiling and nodding their heads; don’t focus too much on the person you notice who looks bored.
If you make a mistake, stop, take a breath and re‐start. If you miss something, you don’t need to say anything, just pick it up later or leave it out (nine times out of ten, the audience don’t even know).
Learn to read the signs that you are getting too tense (e.g. shaking, fast‐breathing) and try one of the physical techniques, even if just for a few seconds, to come back to a calmer space.
Here are a couple of things you might do after the presentation is complete. They relate to actively thinking about what you have done.
- You don’t need to listen to everything that is said to you about your performance, certainly, but if you keep getting repeat messages (e.g. you’re speaking too fast, too monotone) then you need to act.
- As mentioned in tip 2 above, you can purposefully practice things to help you improve. If you are speaking too fast, then purposefully practise speaking more slowly. If you are monotone in your voice, then purposefully practise speaking with more tone – over‐tone in practice. This is called overloading.
- Sit down somewhere quiet after the presentation and deliberately think about how it went. What went well? What didn’t? Why?
- Be honest with yourself. Analyse performance and be willing to change.
- If it is possible, or appropriate, ask someone to give you feedback. If you can analyse parts of the presentation that give you most anxiety (e.g. answering questions, a particular transition) then purposefully practise those.
As part of reflection now focus on the positives of the presentation – be aware or ‘mindful’ of what went well, why it did and how you will do that again next time. Write down these things, affirm your own performance. Extend this to other parts of your life.
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Don’t Let Anxiety Sabotage Your Next Presentation
- Riaz Meghji
Stop focusing on yourself and start focusing on your audience.
If you want to beat speaking anxiety, you need to stop focusing on yourself and point your focus outward. This shift isn’t something that can happen instantaneously. It takes time, patience, and practice. Here’s how to get started.
- Be a giver, not a taker. Takers tend to have more anxiety. They want and need validation from their listeners.
- Givers, on the other hand, are all about service. They do work beforehand to connect with stakeholders and use the information they receive to address the needs of their audience. As a result, their presentation becomes less about them and more about helping the other people in the room.
- If you want to turn your presentation into an act of service, you need to talk to the people in the room — well before your presentation begins.
- Choose about three to five influential leaders, and meet with them before to learn their concerns and goals surrounding the topic you’re presenting on.
- Then, incorporate your findings into you presentation. This will help you shift your focus outwards, from yourself to the audience, and as a result, ease some of your nerves.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
How many times have you had an important message to share, only to be sabotaged by anxiety right before you speak?
- RM Riaz Meghji is a human connection keynote speaker, author of Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships and creator of The Magnetic Presenter speaker coaching program. He is also an accomplished broadcaster with 17 years of television hosting experience. Riaz has hosted for Citytv’s Breakfast Television, MTV Canada, TEDxVancouver, CTV News, and the Toronto International Film Festival.