You’ve been working with your team for weeks to prepare the perfect bid. It’s less than three days to the presentation and you’ve done as much as you can to get ready for the big day – your talk track is perfect, the slides work well and the whole team is confident that the content covers every aspect that needs to be addressed. You have a presentation to be proud of and yet you still can’t get rid of the butterflies you feel when you get up to present it. Worry not – presentation anxiety is a problem we regularly see in clients. Below are five things to remember that may help combat the anxiety that goes with a high pressure presentation.
As soon as you realise that there’s no such thing as the perfect presentation, the easier the whole thing will become. Many of the common symptoms of nervousness are caused by a need, consciously or unconsciously, to make sure every aspect of your presentation is perfect. If you set yourself these impossibly high targets, you’ll never be happy with what you’re presenting and it will show. Try and take the time to consider where your standards are at and where they really need to be. Admittedly, this is often easier said than done if a lot is riding on the outcome of your performance, but it’s worth it in the long run. If you come across as content and at ease with where your presentation is when you get up to speak, you’ll be able to focus completely on the task of effective delivery.
You Get Better Every Time
Standing in front of an audience if you’re nervous is one of the best things you can do to combat presentation anxiety over the long term. The more often you do it, the more you’ll feel the benefits. It’s recognised that regular and increased exposure to a fear or phobia will eventually lead to desensitization (Wolpe, 1958). Whilst it’s natural to be nervous in front of an audience, if you simply keep presenting regularly, your anxiety will continue to diminish over time.
You’re The Expert
It’s easy to feel that you have something to prove to the audience when you’re stood in front of a wall of their intense stares; that you need to justify being there. You don’t.
Remember that, whether as an individual or as part of a team, you have been selected as an expert who is able to provide the answers the audience are looking for. The stress you may be feeling is a natural, but temporary, effect of the situation. Presenting with the confidence, passion and authority of an expert will go a long way towards combatting it this stress. Remember that you know the content and are there because you are best placed to provide valuable information to those who need and want it.
The Audience Want You To Succeed
Have you ever sat down in a presentation and wanted the presenter to crash and burn? Probably not. I’m not sure I know anyone who has (competitors aside).
Despite what your gut may tell you when you stand up to present, the audience is on your side! There’s no conspiracy to make it as awkward as possible for you to be successful – the audience wants to enjoy the presentation when they sit down to watch you. They’ve likely sat through more than a few bullet-pointed slides and want to be engaged and enthused by your delivery. They want your pitch to go as well as possible – for their sake as well as yours!
You Have Already Imagined The Worst
Your mind will likely have already suggested all the worst possible outcomes – and it won’t do any good my listing the most common ones here – but the chance that any of them will actually come to pass is pretty slim.
Critically though, even if something does go awry, the audience likely won’t care. As mentioned earlier, there’s no such thing as a perfect presentation and the audience will be looking for the value you can offer, not the mistakes you might make – they’ll remember what you can do for them and not that you may have tripped as you got up to speak.
Being nervous is an instinctive reaction to threatening situations – and presenting in front of an intimidating audience can easily be classed as this. It heightens the senses, quickens the body’s reactions and in small doses it can help keep you on your toes. In excess though it can play havoc with your ability to think clearly and deliver. If you keep these few pointers in mind you should be able to convey yourself as an expert delivering an effective pitch that will have the audience hooked from beginning to end.