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  • Alice Bull

8 Ways To Calm Your Nerves Before A Presentation

Even if you've delivered many presentations throughout your career, public speaking can still be a challenge.

The fear of public speaking is the most common phobia (according to the National Social Anxiety Center) and can cause your stomach to churn, your palms to become sweaty, your heart rate to go sky high and your breathing to become shallow.

This natural physiological response to what your brain detects as a threat can be helpful in certain situations, but right before a presentation, it can really dent your self-confidence or increase your anxiety.

Why do people get nervous before a presentation?

The number one reason why people fear public speaking is the fear of failure and being judged. Whether you're worried about what your colleagues might think of your content or having a brain freeze mid flow, the brain tends to create a negative dialogue even before you've stepped up to speak, resulting in a feeling of distress.

This onset of panic and anxiety can shut down the functioning of the frontal lobe of the brain, which is partially responsible for the retrieval of memories and this may cause you to forget what you are speaking about.

8 ways to calm your nerves before a presentation

Speaking at an event may be challenging for you, so below are 8 tips to help you reduce your nerves and remain focused and calm throughout your presentation;

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Spend time researching your topic, understanding your content inside out and knowing your audience.

Self-confidence comes from trusting in your preparation. If you know your subject well and understand what the audience is looking to gain from your presentation, this will ensure that your content will be well received.

2. Foresee any potential problems

This is a technique I use when working with athletes. In order to feel completely confident about your presentation, you need to work out what the potential pitfalls might be - difficult questions, equipment failures, a brain freeze.

Work through a solution to all of these problems in advance so that you can be reassured that whatever happens, you are prepared.

3. Practice

The more you can practice in advance of your presentation, the more you will feel fully prepared.

Try out your speech on a friend or colleague and ask for honest feedback.

Stand in front of a mirror and practice different positions for delivering your speech - standing still, taking a few paces around the stage, holding your arms out wide.

4. Mental Rehearsal

Another very effective technique employed by athletes to achieve their goals is mental rehearsal or visualisation. Sports Psychology has been at the leading edge of mental rehearsal since the 1980's.

It's not just athletes who can benefit from this mind tool - you can employ it to help you see yourself giving the best performance possible.

Brain imaging studies have shown indications that the blood flow in the brain behaves in the same when you think about doing something compared to when you actually do it.

Mental rehearsal involves imagining performing your presentation in as much detail as you can.This gets your mind into the right starting place, ready to execute your presentation to perfection.

  • Use your 5 senses to bring this mental image to life (sight, sound, taste, touch and smell). Imagine your surroundings and the environment in which you will be giving the presentation.

  • Imitate the movements you will be using during the presentation. For example, if you plan to stand for the event, see yourself standing.

  • Notice the emotions you feel when you see yourself delivering the perfect presentation. Become aware of how your body responds to these feelings.

5. Positive self-talk

Quieten the negative inner critic by focusing on a positive dialogue with yourself. This will help you to stay focused and work through any challenges. Positive self-talk can boost your confidence and reduce your nerves.

Talk to yourself as you would to a friend and remind yourself of your skills, experience and capabilities. Try and keep your dialogue relevant to your task, so you might want to tell yourself "you can do this", "you are well-prepared and confident" or "you've given so many successful presentations before". Find something that feels authentic to you.

6. Focus on your breathing

Breathing techniques can help you to focus your mind, shut out any distractions and slow down your heart rate.

An effective breathing technique practiced by the US Navy SEALs to induce relaxation in stressful situations is called the Box Breathing technique and involves the following;

  • inhale up through your nose for the count of 4 (make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm and not your chest)

  • hold your breath for the count of 4

  • exhale slowly through your mouth for the count of 4

  • hold your breath out for the count of 4

7. Try a tension release exercise

Contracting and relaxing your muscles can release physical stress or tension held in your body and will help you feel more relaxed before a presentation.

Inhale up through your nose and bring your shoulders up towards your ear lobes. Tense your shoulders and hold this position for the count of 5.

Then exhale slowly through your mouth, bring your shoulders down and breathe out any feelings of tension. Repeat this 3 times.

8. Turn off your mobile phone 20 minutes before the presentation

The build up to a presentation can be stressful and you need time to prepare, so having your phone off will avoid any texts or emails which may distract or distress you.

Switch off your phone so that you do not receive any notifications and you can resist the temptation to have a peak at emails or social media.

Conclusion: Public speaking can be nerve-wracking, but ensuring that you are physically and mentally prepared for an event will boost your self-confidence and help you deliver the best performance you can.

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