Presentation Skills: Delivery Skills: Presentation AnxietyThe Pre-Presentation Jitters - Still Heading the List
The pre-presentation jitters remain the number one challenge listed by most presenters. Which means it's time to re-visit some basic truths.
First, recognize that if you don't get even a little "nervous" before giving a speech or presentation, you should really be worried. The adrenaline from presentation anxiety fuels you with the energy you need to be at your best as a presenter. The flight-or-fight response isn't just for saving our hides from charging rhinos in the bushveldt; it also protects us from the circling sharks in the meeting room.
However, there can be too much of a good thing. Extreme anxiety can work against you by generating more energy than you can release effectively through communicating. Unspent energy rapidly converts to tension, jitters, fidgets, dry mouth, tight throat, and can completely disable the body (and mind!) of the presenter. Here are some tips to help you prevent anxiety from overcoming you.
Leave nothing to chance.: Prepare. Don't wing it. Start with a good plan. Define a clear and specific outcome and find the best way to lead your audience to it. This means knowing how to effectively analyze your audience with the specific goals of your presentation in mind. From this process, you can create specific messages that will address their concerns to bring them to your goal.
Rehearse the presentation. Rehearsal enables spontaneity by helping you internalize your message. Once you know what you're saying and have some "muscle memory" from saying it several times, you will be free to deliver the message more powerfully and with a closer connection to your audience. Whenever possible, rehearse in the actual space with the exact equipment and settings you will have at the actual event. At the very least, do a full technical run-through with slides, lights, sound, and everything else as it will be. It's far too easy to have a nasty surprise if you haven't done this.
In addition to the physical rehearsal, you can use specific visualization techniques to perform cognitive rehearsals. These will augment the impact of the physical rehearsal on your presentation just as a skier's visualization of a ski run improves race performance.
Just prior to the presentation, warm up. Walk, run, jump, skip-do something that gets your whole body moving (though try to avoid doing this within eyeshot of the audience). It's also very important to specifically warm up the muscles of your voice. There are vocal and breathing exercises that can dramatically improve the power, tone, and feeling of your voice. Warming up your voice also serves to protect it. As most people have learned the hard way, speaking loudly without the proper vocal warm-ups and techniques can cause hoarseness or even permanent vocal damage (just ask former President Clinton how much this can hurt).
At the moment you are about to begin your presentation, take one full deep "belly" breath. Focus your eyes on someone towards the back of the room. And begin! This should get you off to a great start. Once you start the presentation, don't let all this warming up go to waste. Keep breathing (this is generally good advice anyway), use your full voice and big gestures to release energy. If you can do so safely (without falling off the stage or wandering into a dark part of the auditorium), move-actually put one foot in front of the other and get somewhere. These activities will not only help release energy, but will also make you a better presenter. Remember, unspent energy is the enemy; use every drop to fuel your delivery and to avoid drowning in it.