Five Ways to Dramatically Reduce Presentation Jitters

This technique has never worked for me.
This technique has never worked for me.

Ahhh….you can almost smell autumn. Weather cooling, humidity waning, sun setting earlier, leaves ever so slightly beginning to turn. And…it’s Fall Conference Season! Yay!! If you work in the high tech sector there is a good chance you’re either going to deliver a big presentation or know someone who will.

I love giving presentations, and part of my ritual is to become terrified in the days, hours and minutes before I get onstage. Within healthy limits this fear works for me. But if one transcends the boundaries of performance-enhancing anxiety and enters overwhelm mode, the risk of an onstage botch goes way up. Instead, do what Tony Robbins suggests and use fear as a signal to get prepared! Here are my five easy-to-follow steps to calm the hell down and have some fun.

Prepare and rehearse obsessively — While this is almost a throwaway, you’ll clearly think and feel more confidently if you know you have given the preparation and rehearsal process 100 percent in the weeks preceding your presentation by:

  • Rehearsing – This means rehearsing out loud, rehearsing with other people out loud, and taking long walks at night and rehearsing out loud. When strangers on the street pass you by and look at you like you are insane, then you know you’re on the right track. No, I am not kidding.
  • Mental Storyboarding – This means writing your storyboard outline on 3 x 5 cards and memorizing them frontwards and backwards. It means doing the same thing on a whiteboard. It means visualizing the words and pictures in your storyboard, and again rearranging and delivering them both in and out of order. Speaking in a chemically dependent way to slides where you must pause in between each slide in order to read the next title is a ‘fail.’ You don’t want that. You are not delivering a 40 slide presentation. You are sharing a compelling story in five chapters. Or are you? I suggest you do.
  • Thinking about those first two minutes – Obsess over how the first two minutes will transpire. Will a “voice of god” introduce you? Will another speaker introduce you? Do you have to chit chat with that other speaker? Over-rehearse your intro. This is because you’ll find that when you nail this, the rest of your presentation will be much easier to master. Regarding the sage advice to always begin with some humor, the risk of flubbing is way too high, and it’s now almost too ‘obvious’ to start a session with humor. Instead, show the audience the proper respect they deserve by taking them and yourself seriously without coming across as too stiff.

Detach and attach — What I find fascinating about the presentation process during a corporate event is how much of a “head game” it is. Your peers will unintentionally or intentionally psych you out by comparing their preparation process with yours, and it will be among the only topics of conversation for weeks on end. Your managers and top executives will highlight the urgency of the event you’re participating in for the sales success of the current financial year. And you will become convinced your very future as a corporate earner is on the line.

Instead of getting psyched out, look at the whole “event” as a game without becoming cynical or denying its importance. Yes, it is important. Yes, this could be your biggest customer event of the year. Yes, your presentation could impact your professional success for a short while in your current position. Therefore do not minimize any of this. Yet it’s still possible to detach yourself from the charade, to become an observer and at the same time to live within the ritual of delivering a great presentation instead of becoming obsessed about your presentation.

At the same time attach yourself to those things most important to you, such as family, friends, nature, hobbies, religion and spirit, etc. Hug your kids. Hug your dog. Hop the counter and hug the Starbucks barista who knows your order by heart.

Again, this is a mental balancing act. It’s possible to detach without adopting a jaded perspective. The paradox is this will likely go a long way toward ensuring you deliver a more successful presentation.

Repeat insanely positive things to yourself — In those moments when you’re not actually rehearsing, become maniacal about reciting positive affirmations either out loud or in your head. You should state these in the present tense. Here is what I used to say, “I am a great presenter. I always connect with my audience. I am relaxed. I am confident. I am a great product marketer.” And I would do this repeatedly. Do not say, “I will do a great job. I will deliver a great presentation.” Doing this only delays your “success” to some future unknown date and time. Without getting too Lebowski on ya…you now need to be the “thing” you want to be…right now. And you are.

Visualize yourself kicking ass and taking names — We think in images and pictures. So whatever crap you’re watching on TV late at night to take your mind off your presentation, turn it off because it is not serving you. Instead, make your own mental movie with eyes closed (not while driving). Here, you’re not rehearsing. Instead you’re simply watching yourself onstage with the movement, the body language, the confidence, and the audience connection you want to have. If you still need a diversion, listen to upbeat music. In fact, extra points if you can influence the A/V crew at your event to play the upbeat songs you want to hear prior to the presentation and that you know the audience will resonate with. Note: If you’re a Sonic Youth fan, think again…not that there is anything wrong with Sonic Youth, but you will most likely lose your audience unless I happen to be in attendance, which is not likely. Without getting too far off track, I’ve been listening to this Major Lazer and DJ Snake song repeatedly while running in the morning before the sun rises. It’s pretty much made for event warm ups, although I wonder why I’m never invited to parties like the one depicted in the video.

Breathe very deeply — I have arguably saved the most important suggestion for last. And this advice applies to everything in your life, from the second you wake up. If you are like me, you breathe subconsciously, but it’s often very shallow breathing, particularly when you are more nervous. The opportunity is to consciously focus on deep breathing from the belly — very slowly and very deliberately. In other words, direct and focus your mind in order to direct your breathing. This will both calm you down and give you more energy. Here is a bonus: You will find that when delivering a presentation in a large room to a big audience, you will need every bit of energy you can muster to punch through the room, regardless of how loud the PA system is. I don’t know how else to explain this, and it’s a sensation one perhaps only “gets” when they are onstage, but it is real. Ensuring you breathe deeply and don’t run out of breath while on stage is a great way to ensure you dominate the room.

Basically, success in the presentation arena is largely dependent on my favorite topics: mindset and energy. With a positive and healthily paranoid mindset you will rehearse during every waking hour you can in order to ensure you deliver the winning presentation you know you are capable of. On top of that you can mentally rehearse for success. And you can draw physical energy from that most fundamental of foundations — your breath — to ensure you command the stage and connect with your audience.

Good luck out there!

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