Managing Your Presentation Anxiety

Last month, we discussed why you – and everyone else – has some degree of Presentation Anxiety and what may cause it. Assuming that information didn’t scare you too much, let’s turn attention to the positive steps you can take to Manage Your PA.

Now, we’ll discuss specific strategies and tactics for dealing with each one of your causes. If you add some of these to your Presenter Tool Kit, you can actually minimize the level of PA they cause and learn to mask what’s left. The higher the number you assign to each cause, the more effort you should be willing to put into embracing the related tactics. Remember that your real goal is to appear to be credible, competent and confident and you’ll encounter the ‘perception is reality’ concept often.

You’ll recall from last month that PA isn’t a singular psychological phenomenon, but a variety of specific causes that impact presenters in different ways. And different presentation circumstances can create different levels of PA in the same presenter.  What follows is a brief summary of specific strategies and techniques you can use to Minimize each Cause Factor.

Minimize Causes of PA

*  Most causes relate to preparation – or lack thereof: fear of not knowing your material, not being an expert, not being prepared, not making a good impression on your audience or your bosses, not handling audience questions very well, etc. The obvious strategy to minimize these drivers is … Prepare!

Do your homework.  Remember that failing to plan is planning to fail.  So, commit the time and effort to properly prepare your audience-centric presentation.  Answer all the important questions.  Review the previous ‘Stellar Presentations’ articles in the archives as needed.

*  Part of your audience analysis process is anticipating their needs, reactions and potential questions.  Fore warned is fore armed.  Be prepared to deal with their reactions and respond to their questions with succinct and focused answers … just in case.

*  Also accept the fundamental difference between being an expert and having expertise.  If you didn’t have enough content knowledge to adequately handle the topic, why would you be presenting in the first place?  You don’t need to be an expert, just have enough more expertise on the topic than the audience does so you can accomplish your outcomes.  An old Sicilian proverb comes to mind here – ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.’

*  Another critical strategy to minimize PA is practice – rehearse your presentation several times, out loud, standing up, working with your slides.  Audio or video tape it for self-critique.  For really important presentations, rehearse with a small audience of colleagues who can relate to the topic and provide focused, objective constructive feedback.

*  If your PA level is high because you’re shy or self-conscious about your appearance, remind yourself that they probably didn’t hire you for your personality or looks.  You’re really not the center of attention – your message and audience are.  Shy, introverted people can be very effective audience-centric presenters.  They just need more effort and practice.

Mask Symptoms

* Once you’ve minimized your specific causes as much as you can, learn to mask what’s left.  The audience can’t see the butterflies in your stomach or the sweat on your palms.  They only know what they see and hear.  So, let them see and hear what they assume is a credible, confident and competent presenter. Their perception is truly your reality.

Never say you’re nervous, uncomfortable or unprepared – make them figure that out for themselves. And most won’t.

Smile more – it projects confidence.

*  Look like you’re having fun.

Increase your volume and inflection to sound more authoritative and confident.

*  Minimize nervous-looking gestures and movement.

*  Maintain sustained eye contact with all parts of the room.

Project enthusiasm and passion for your topic with your words and actions.  Fake it if you need to. Remember the song from ‘Dream Girls’ – ‘Faking it to the Top’. (If you need some help in faking it, watch the deli scene from the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ several times.)

So, there you go.  Proven strategies to minimize your specific causes of Presentation Anxiety and techniques to mask what’s left.  Keep telling yourself that you don’t actually need to become confident and comfortable on the platform, just look and sound like it.  Presenters on the Varsity Team have learned how to do that and Manage PA. So can you.