How to control nerves during a presentation

One of the most common issues I help my clients with is nerves or anxiety before a presentation. Two pieces of good news:

  1. Even the pros get nervous. According to the New York Times, "Elton John still gets the jitters when he steps onstage."

  2. A little bit of nerves is a good thing.

The key is not to let the nerves overtake you. Work on this before and during the presentation. Trust me, it’s not that difficult.

To control your nerves when presenting:

  1. Prepare. Even if it’s something simple like notes scribbled on note cards, having your thoughts organized somehow before you speak will give you a confidence boost. It’s like having a road map. I run through my presentations - spoken, out loud - a minimum of five times each before a client ever sees a minute of it. Being an expert in your field doesn’t mean you can automatically speak about X topic. There is a difference between knowledge and preparation.

  2. Know what puts you at ease when speaking. Then use it. Some people need to feel connected to their audience right away, and prefer a little chit-chat or some questions from the audience before they start. Some (like me) get thrown off by chit-chat and want to get off-and-running, like a performer on a stage. Know which approach works best for you, and devise a way to make it happen.

  3. Rehearse, record, review. When you’re speaking in front of an audience, your mind plays tricks on you. You’re certain the audience can see you sweating, shaking, and forgetting all the things you wanted to say. (Pro tip: Your audience has no idea what you’re planning to say). Public speaking usually feels about 100 times worse in your mind than how it actually presents in reality. SO. Deliver a five-minute presentation on something simple, like your favorite restaurant or why Oscar Isaac is the best actor ever. Record yourself, then watch the recording with the intent of noticing what you did really well. You’re a stronger public speaker than you think.

Remember all the good things you noticed the next time you present. A little nervousness is good - it means you care about doing a good job. Prepare, connect (or not) with your room, and remember how skilled you are, and the nerves will calm down.