Dealing positively with nervousness


“A speaker’s uncontrolled nervousness is infectious.”

Some degree of nervous tension is a healthy and positive emotion to experience before giving a presentation because it means you care about how you present both your subject and yourself. On the other hand, nervousness is counter-productive if it is based on negative feelings about yourself, your message and/or your audience. Physical and mental preparation is vital to being a successful presenter.

Don’t be self-conscious about having a warm up routine.

Athletes and dancers warm up. Opera singers vocalise. Presenters, on the other hand seem to do a lot of standing around before a presentation.  A presentation is enormously demanding on the mind and body: vocal chords, the nervous system, body and mind.  If those things aren’t warmed up and ready to support you, you can be tense, awkward, uncomfortable and thick in the brain.  The following exercises aren’t going to make people think you’ve lost your marbles – chances are, they won’t even notice.  And if they do, so what?  Most people exercise these days and it’s a matter of self-pride and professionalism.


First, don’t fight it

You don’t get anywhere by waging war against nervousness. Accept it as a positive influence. People generally only get nervous about things that matter to them. At the very least it prevents you from being flat. If you keep a positive and encouraging frame of mind, you will ease your way through it a lot more effectively than by hammering and pounding.


Second, find a quiet place to sit and let your arms dangle at your sides

Make believe that your fingers and arms are supported by the carpet. If you can’t feel the carpet, just let your hands dangle there, detached. Feel the tension draining out of them and onto the carpet.  Remember, you’re not fighting anything, you’re just letting it drift away.


Third, while your arms are dangling there, twirl your wrists, so that your fingers shake loosely 

Athletes do this all the time, usually while waiting on the sidelines, just before entering a game. You’re shaking the stress out of them – not violently, gently. Coaxing them to ease off, not badgering them.  You’ll find that all of these little exercises increase the circulation – the blood supply – and anything that improves circulation reduces stress.


Fourth, imagine that you’re wearing a heavy overcoat and you can feel it resting on your shoulders

When you’re cold or nervous you ‘hunch up’. And when your shoulders are tight, the rest of your body feels tense. The gentle pressure of a pretend overcoat will encourage your shoulders to relax the rest of you will do the same.


Fifth, chew an imaginary, huge ball of gum 

If you hear your jaws grinding, you’re probably tense – and the exercise will help you open your mouth. A presenter who suffers the ‘tight jaw syndrome’ is like a footballer who can’t kick the ball.


Sixth, do some slow, deep breathing

Place one hand, open-fingered, on your diaphragm and the other on your stomach. Your aim is to deepen your breathing, and to push air into your lower lungs. As you breathe in, make sure your upper hand remains unmoved, while the lower should be forced out. Only let the upper hand be pushed out once you have expanded the lower area. Breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating only on the sound of your breathing. Close your eyes.

If you have time, drop your head from the sitting position, right down between your knees. Let it hang heavy and imagine the weight of your head stretching your neck towards the ground. Continue breathing deeply and gradually straighten up.
All you have to remember is this. As your breath goes in, your stomach goes out. Inhale, stomach out.  Exhale, stomach in.  Do it slowly and deeply for two minutes. It oxygenates the body and gently calms you down.  Do this in a well-ventilate room. You’ll find more about breathing in the section that deals with voice.


Seventh, say, “Let go” 

‘Let go’ needs to be said as a suggestion to yourself, not an order. Tell your brain, your muscles, your nerves, your arterial system to ease off and ‘let go’. These two little words will do more to diffuse negative nervousness than any other combination of words in the English language and nobody can make them work for you as well as you can.


Eighth, take a brisk walk. While everybody else is loading up on coffee and biscuits, take a five minute walk.  If you haven’t got five minutes, walk around the corridors near your meeting room or walk up a couple of flights of stairs. Walking before presenting gets your whole body loosened up (it is guaranteed to prevent your knees from shaking).  Walking channels your excess nervousness. It gets you moving forward physically and mentally.  It projects you into your presentation in a non-stressed way. You walk in with a glow.



Helpful Tips

Develop the Habit of Positive Self-talk

• Picture success, talk to yourself (on the inside) in an encouraging way, create a positive self-image and perform to that image.

Believe in the audience’s goodwill

• They want you to succeed, want to be interested and entertained. They are probably quite glad it is you that’s up there and not them!

Be the Performer – Act “as if” you are in charge

• Behave in a way that you want to be seen – Smile and look and feel relaxed.

• Take a tip from the American motivational speakers and “Fake it ‘till you make it”. 
This means that having prepared carefully and rehearsed thoroughly, you pretend you are a confident and practiced presenter, until you find that you really are!

Believe in what you’re saying

• Be thoroughly convinced about the worth of your message.

Prepare Thoroughly

• Know your presentation “inside out”.


• In a mirror, to yourself, out loud – smooth out the “blind spots”, be confident about the timing, practise with the visual aids.



Develop a Confidence Habit

Unshakeable confidence is the sense of certainty that we all want. The only way that you can consistently experience confidence, even in environments and situations you’ve never previously encountered, is through the power of faith in yourself. Imagine and feel certain about your ability to be able to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. Imagine you are about to make a presentation to a group of people who want to hear you. Have faith that you will present in a clear, confident and interesting way, rather than wait for the faith in yourself to appear someday in the distant future.

When you’re confident you’re willing to experiment, to put yourself on the line. One way to develop faith in yourself and confidence is to simply practise using it. If I were to ask you if you were confident that you could tie your own shoelaces, I’m sure you could say with perfect confidence that you can.  Why? Only because you have done it thousands of times! So practise confidence by using it consistently, and you’ll be amazed at the dividends it reaps in every area of your life.

In order to get yourself to do anything, it’s imperative to exercise confidence rather than fear. Many people avoid doing things because they’re afraid.  They even feel bad about things in advance. But remember:  the source of success for outstanding achievers often finds its origin in a set of nurtured beliefs for which that individual had no evidence in advance! The ability to act on faith in self is what moves the human race forward.

Make sure that all your physical energy and vitality is available, taking care of your body and feeling fit and well adds to a sense of confidence in yourself.  If you need to give yourself a boost of confidence then go back to basics. Ask yourself how your health is. Are you getting enough quality sleep? Are you getting enough exercise? Contrary to popular belief, sitting still does not preserve energy. The truth is that’s usually when you feel most tired. The human nervous system needs to move to have energy.  Are you taking time out from work to have fun and be with interesting and stimulating people?  How are you breathing?  This may sound an odd question but when people are stressed they breathe in a shallow way. This saps energy and vitality.

So don’t be afraid.  Have faith and confidence in yourself and know that you are in control.


On Stage

Don’t sit there waiting with your legs crossed. One of them is liable to go to sleep. Presenters often get up to speak to find that they lunge forward, one leg functioning and the other leg floundering.  If you’re the next presenter, put both feet on the floor and lean forward. Wiggle your toes. No-one will know what you’re doing and you will have proof that both feet are ready to go.


In the Beginning

The first two minutes are the worst. Know exactly what you are going to say in that time, even if you can remember nothing else.


Slow down: 

Not half way through your presentation, at the beginning. Gabble at your peril. Did you ever take seriously anyone who spoke too fast?


Speak up: 

Learn the feeling of speaking at “presentation volume”. Can everyone hear you?  If you are not sure, ask them.


Stop bellowing: 

Too loud is as bad as too quiet.  If you normally speak loudly you will probably shout at your audience. 


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