How to Destroy Public Speaking Anxiety Before a Presentation

It’s common to feel nervous and maybe even a little bit panicky before a presentation. This is true whether you’re giving a remote presentation or will be standing in front of a crowd behind a podium.

Here are some ways you can diffuse panic and anxiety before giving a presentation, so the information you want to share comes across smoothly and is easily absorbed by your audience.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you’re giving a presentation that you don’t know much about or haven’t practiced very well, naturally you’re going to be nervous (and look that way to everyone watching your speech). Prepare your presentation with plenty of time to spare before the day you’re due to give it so you have multiple opportunities to practice your speech and go through your presentation slides if you’re using PowerPoint.

Ask friends and family to sit for a mock presentation and ask for critique, so you can fine-tune any issues prior to presentation day.

Ground Yourself  

Grounding yourself in reality before going up to give a presentation can help you stay calm and focused on the task ahead. It’s common for the human brain to attempt to dissociate from stressful experiences, potentially leaving you feeling like you’re giving a dream presentation or that perhaps you’re somewhere or someone else.

A good grounding exercise is to take a few minutes to name five things you can immediately see around you, like a picture on the wall or desk lamp. Then, name four things you can hear, like the sound of cars passing in the background or television noise coming from another room. Then, name three things you can touch, like your computer keyboard or the soft fabric of your shirt. Finally, name two things you can smell and one thing you can taste, like the scent of fresh paper or the coolness of a breath mint.

Use this technique whenever you begin to feel detached from reality, whether you’re having public speaking anxiety or just need help tethering yourself to back to the real world again after a long day at the computer.

Use Diaphragmatic Breathing

There’s a reason you start to get sweaty, your heart races, and your knees feel weak when you get nervous about public speaking. This type of anxiety triggers your sympathetic nervous system, or your fight or flight response. Once the adrenaline starts coursing through your body and causes this physiological response, it can be very difficult to reign in.

One way to help physically soothe your fired-up nervous system is to use diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing techniques. Before your speech, place your hands with your palms on your belly and the tips of your middle fingers touching each other over the top of your navel. When you breathe in, your belly should expand out so your middle fingers are no longer touching. When you exhale, bring your abdomen back in where your fingers touch again.

Repeat to stimulate your vagus nerve and engage your parasympathetic nervous system – your deescalate response.

Don’t Lock Your Knees

It’s normal for your knees to feel wobbly or weak when standing up and giving a presentation, but don’t give into the temptation to lock them. It may make you feel steadier in the short term, but it prevents your blood vessels from effectively carrying the blood in your legs back up to your brain, causing you to faint.

The phenomenon itself is harmless so long as you don’t injure yourself in the fall, however, it’s certainly not something people are likely to forget very soon.

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