Presentation Nerves

You Can Manage Them

When we talk about presentaion nerves, we usually talk about DURING the presentaiton.  

 Let's start where nerves start - BEFORE the presentation.  

These 2 short videos talk about nerves during your preparation of the presentation. The following article details a technique for managing your nerves in any situation.

The Floundering Around Stage


When I was in university, I worked part time in a restaurant as a server. I was confused by how BAD I was when the restaurant was slow. But when we got busy, I became a good server! The concept in this video explains that. Finally. After you watch the video, think about times when you performed better when things were tougher.

The ABCs of Managing Stress at any Stage of Your Presentation

One of my favourite techniques to build resilience and continuing optimism is the ABCDE technique described by Martin Seligman in his book, ‘Learned Optimism’. Let's review a previous article for general guidance; and let's apply it specifically to presentation jitters.  

A: Adversity Situation or event which triggers your negative feelings. Could be almost anything–a cancelled meeting, a frown from a boss, a co-worker gets your promotion, a rejection letter, no returned call, etc. 

Adversity pre-Presentation: Prep is difficult, overwhelming. Could be because the presentation is difficult, the presentation event is significant – to a Board, or your boss maybe – or you just don’t present often and it’s scary. 

B: Belief Your Beliefs are how you interpret the Adversity. This is about thoughts, not feelings. Feelings are part of Consequences. Examples include ‘I’ll never get that promotion.’ ‘My boss doesn’t respect me.’ ‘I’m going to be fired.’ 

Belief pre-Presentation: I’m going to make a mess of this. I have no idea where to start. I’m just not a good presenter. I’ll look stupid – my career will be hurt.  

C: Consequences Consequences are your feelings and things you did. Examples: ‘I was too stressed to work.’ ‘I snapped at my co-worker.’ ‘I didn’t sleep.’ 

Consequences pre-Presentation I can’t get anywhere. I’m so stressed I keep starting and stopping. I’m second-guessing myself. [A key consequence here is time is passing without progress being made. The next consequence will be that in order to get anything done, the presentation has to be prepped quickly without time for creativity, strategic thinking, practice.]  

D: Disputation |Distraction There are two main ways suggested to deal with these consequences, distract yourself from such thoughts, or, for a longer-term solution, dispute with the beliefs, using one of the following techniques:

Distraction Learning to distract yourself at the time of the stress is always important. You can’t fix it in the moment; but you can often take your mind away from your stressful beliefs and thoughts at least for a while Here are some of Seligman’s techniques for distracting yourself: • Startle yourself: Ring a loud bell, look at a notecard with the word “STOP” on it, or snap a rubber band on your wrist while yelling “STOP” in your head. • Shift your attention: Pick up a small object and examine it in as many ways as you can, tapping, tasting, smelling, and feeling. Really study it. • Schedule a time later to think about your pessimistic thoughts. When the time comes, sit down to think about them or – if you don’t feel the need to – don’t.

Distraction pre-Presentation 

Use any of these techniques Seligman suggests. I especially like to schedule a later time to stress out. Other things that work: • Use a flip chart or white board to list scary things. Tell yourself you WILL deal with them shortly. • Give yourself some milestones. List the big things to be done, such as Find out What this Even Means! And include them on your flip chart. • Schedule a strategy meeting with a colleague or boss. • Remind yourself: It’s Normal and will Pass! And stress can be Useful • If pre-presentation stress happens often, wear an elastic band you can snap and say the tip above – It’s normal. Actually Useful.  

A: Alternatives There are usually a number of alternative explanations for what has happened, but people often adopt the most negative one. As yourself whether you could explain what has happened in another way Example: When your boss frowned at you: ‘My boss must have had a bad morning.’ Rather than ‘My boss doesn’t respect me.’  

My personal alternate mlindset that helps comes from an exercise I did at Grail Springs Wellness Retreat. We were told to toss a rock into the lake, and think of throwing away a negative thought. I threw away, ‘What if I can’t?” I went one step further and replaced it with the thought, ‘How Will I?’ I’m amazed at how much and how often that helps.  

Alternatives pre-Presentation There are ways to reframe your thoughts and therefore your beliefs that are making you so nervous it’s hard to even prep your presentation, much less deliver it. Here are some possibilities:  

FROM: I can't do this! TO: Of course I can. I've done it before. (Or I've done tough things before)

FROM: I'll do such a bad job and my boss is in the room - I'll be fired! TO: That's a crazy thought. I'll do well if I prep and practice. And I just got a goo review. Even a bad presentation can't completely negate that.

E Evidence Often negative beliefs are unrealistic. Show yourself that the negative belief is wrong, by asking whether there is any real evidence for what you’re thinking. Example: ‘My boss is frowning at everyone today. It has nothing to do with me.’ ‘I had an excellent meeting with my boss last week. And we’ve had no negative interactions since. So, it’s not me he’s frowning at.’ 

Evidence pre-Presentation

Now Evidence that your pre-Presentation nerves aren't indicative of anything other than normal nerves. They don't mean you'll completely fail at the presentation and your career. 

‘I was just as nervous for my last presentation and it went great!’ ‘Joe did a mediocre presentation and no one seemed too disturbed. He certainly wasn't fired over it! ’  

I. Implications Even if a negative belief is correct, it’s not the end of the world. People can often make things seem a lot worse than they actually are, by expecting themselves to be perfect. Sometimes it’s just a matter of accepting that we might have a small flaw – without forgetting also have a lot of good points as well. You can think of Implications as What’s the worst that could happen? Example: ‘My boss actually is frowning at me. Because I did a bad presentation yesterday. And it wasn’t my best. But we have a good relationship and one hiccup won’t destroy that. I’ll talk to her about it and make sure she knows it won’t happen again.’ And sometimes it’s possibly a bad situation. Everything doesn’t come up roses all the time. Example: ‘I am going to be laid off. But what’s the worse that will happen? I will cut back on expenses and put serious effort into job hunting. My experience in this job will help me get another one. This sort of thing happens.’ Often, having a plan makes a negative situation bearable. 

Implications pre-Presentation So you really aren't great at presentations (YET), Or you just don't have enough time or information to do the job you feel needs to be done. But you have to do the presentation. What's the worst that could happen? 'I am going to feel bad after this presentation because I hate doing a mediocre job. But I'll move on. Time heals all.' 'My boss will be in the audience and I was really hoping for a promotion very soon. This could slow that down; but I'll talk to her. If that really does happen I'll make sure she's at my next presentation and do a great job then.' 

U. Usefulness  

And let’s remember the value of stress, as we saw in the video above . If you’re worried about losing your job or doing a bad presentation, you might be driven to fix what needs fixing. Stress drives us and often it’s the only thing that gets us moving. 

If this case of the nerves doesn't seem to have any useful purpose, remind yourself of all the techniques above. Or snap an elastic really hard to tell yourself to Come On! You can do it!

Usefulness pre-Presentation See the video above. If this stress isn't useful, distract yourself from it. Remember, stress is normal and can be the catalyst you need to do a great presentation. 

E: Energization One is energized, and should indeed try to actively celebrate, the positive feelings and sense of accomplishment that come from successful disputation of negative beliefs. Disputation and Energization (celebration) are the keys to Seligman's method. This is where you take time to think about the positive feelings, behaviors, and actions that could or do follow from having a more optimistic outlook.  

Energization pre-Presentation Look forward to the great feeling of having done great preparation that you know will produce a great presentation. Think of how confident you'll be during the presentation because you're ready for it! 

Practice the ABC technique on slightly stressful situations, in all areas of your life. As you practice, the techniques will become second-nature for you. You'll be able to pick which one of the elements you need to use in a particular situation. By building this resilience muscle, you'll be prepared with a tool to help you remain optimistic and be resilient when you run into a significant setback. A tool that will make your presentations enjoyable rather than terrifying.

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