5 Tips to Manage Presentation Anxiety 

It’s not an understatement that every one of us has experienced some sort of anxiety before a presentation. It’s natural – we’re evolutionarily programmed to get a rush of adrenaline in the case of danger, the so-called fight or flight response. Presenting in front of an audience, however, is not supposed to be a life-threatening event, but rather, a communication act helping us establish human connection.  

While you cannot eliminate presentation nervousness, there are several ways to manage it, so it doesn’t stand between you and your goals. According to McKinsey research cognitive abilities like public speaking and storytelling are among the 56 top skills to future-proof your career, so it’s definitely worth honing them. Today we’re sharing with you 5 tips to manage presentation anxiety and deliver presentations with ease. 

Plan for the unknown

So, you’re an expert on your topic and already have a firm foundation to step on, it’s time to do some risk assessment. If you know your material in depth, you can prepare for some negative scenarios. Nerves set in when you face surprises or sudden challenges, so why not play out a few possible gaffes? Being prepared about what can go wrong will keep you sane during the presentation. 

Here’s what 356labs Founder, Boris, has to share about the importance of preparation. He recalls an event where he wasn’t fully familiarised with the space of the venue he had to present in and miscalculated the distance between his laptop and a glass of water.  

I had no back-up equipment, and it was sheer luck that my laptop didn’t get soaking wet, says Boris. Ever since that happened, I always bring extra technical equipment with me to make sure that I’ll be good even if I poor water on my laptop.  

Risk management is a huge part of your preparation process where you can reduce the number of unknowns which would push a situation out of control. Evolutionally speaking, when missing data, our brains default to negatives, as Mark Bowden puts it.  Your brain needs to fill in the missing gaps (the unknowns) with information that will make you feel safe. That’s why you go the extra mile and explore every kind of possible bad outcome. 

Rehearse. A lot

We cannot stress this enough. Whatever you do, don’t leave your presentation to chance. In the words of entrepreneur Tim Ferriss you don’t want your first rehearsal to be when you stand up in front of 3,000 people”. We’ve got a super detailed step-by-step guide on how to rehearse for presentations, but the idea is that the more nervous you get before a presentation, the more time you need to devote to practice. Cognitive scientist Sian Leah Beilocksuggest you do a little pressure training, or simply put – rehearse in a simulated real-life environment which would potentially raise your adrenaline and cortisol levels. You can start off by rehearsing with a friend whose presence won’t feel threatening. When you gain enough confidence, have at least one rehearsal at the venue. (Check if that’s possible with the organisers of the event. The same applies for video conferencing platforms when presenting online). 

Stop seeking external validation

Knowing your audience is one of the essential steps to feel at ease at the time of your presentation, as it gives you context. Think of your presentation as a gift to them or an act of giving and sharing. Many glossophobic people are fearful of negative judgement, so one way to battle that is to let go of the idea of perfection and stop seeking external validation. The latter can be detrimental to your performance, while focusing on the positive – the shared knowledge, the social connection, the progress you’re making – will help you come across as an authentic and charismatic speaker. Show your audience that you’ve taken the time to get to know them and imagine the presentation as a conversation.  

Practice breathwork

Some call it diaphragmatic breathing, others – belly breathing, it’s something that deserves your special attention when it comes to overcoming presentation anxiety. One of our lectors at the Present to Succeed Conference, Cynthia Zhai, talks about how proper breathing can bring out your voice gravitas and help you really be heard. The fact that belly breathing slows the heartbeat and reduces the blood pressure makes it extremely effective at calming your nerves. Actors, singers and performers do a lot of breathwork on their way to self-awareness and body control, but it doesn’t take an acting school to master that. Nowadays you have access to a tonne of apps that can help you learn effective breathing techniques. 

Master body language

Body language expert, Mark Bowden, says that no matter how great your slides are, people perceive your message mostly non-verbally. You may think that your stage behaviour is often unvoluntary, but you can learn to manage it and use it mindfully, which will further boost your confidence and soothe the presentation jitters. 

And how can eye contact ease your anxiety, especially when looking at a screen and not a live audience? One thing to do is to simulate it by looking straight at the camera or call out on someone you know (a colleague, a moderator). Pick two or three people from the audience and maintain eye contact with just them. This will feel like 1:1 communication which will respectively distract you from anxious thoughts. 

Presentation anxiety is natural and, believe us, even professional speakers experience it. Your stress hormones just don’t care about your status, they’ll just hit you. You can do a lot to minimise it though and these basic tips can be your starting point. Start by planning and rehearsing for the unknowns and then slowly build it up with some of the other ideas here. Drop us a comment below to let us know how it all worked out for you.  

Hungry for expert tips? Explore more anxiety relieving methods with the help of the fantastic public speaking professionals who took part in the Present to Succeed Conference 2022.