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Feeling nervous or stressed before a presentation or public speaking?

Nervousness is a normal, natural response to stressful situations e.g., public speaking or presenting. The good news is that nervousness is temporary and resolves once the source of stress has passed. Even if you’re someone who is more prone to nervous feelings, know that it can be overcome.

A senior client of mine recently communicated this scenario:

“I’ve always hated public speaking, but more recently it’s developed into a near phobia. I have to do a client demo soon with two colleagues and I’m terrified. Last night I woke-up in the middle of the night. The last time I did a demo with one of these colleagues, I began shaking and almost couldn’t carry on. I’m so worried it will happen again this time.

Do you have any tips or strategies for keeping calm & keeping the mind clear during presentations?”

If this scenario sounds at all familiar, please know you’re not alone AND help is at hand. The tips and strategies outlined below are intended to support you during times of heightened stress. By understanding that your reactions and responses to pressure situations make sense and form part of your neurobiology, you can begin to integrate strategies into your day-to-day lives to better prepare for stressful situations, recognise and minimise stress as it occurs, and celebrate progress and victories as you grow in courage and confidence as you overcome hurdles.

12 Strategies for overcoming nervousness and panic when preparing for presentations / public speaking.

Strategy 1: Share your experience / ask for help

Sharing with a friend, colleague, or trusted advisor, can help you feel supported and raise your level of confidence. It can help to see things from a different perspective. Sometimes, trying to do everything on your own can leave you feeling disconnected from life and others. Humans are social beings and need connection. One of the biggest antidotes to fear is connection. In connecting with others, sharing your feelings and asking for help, you can help alleviate fear and stress. Remember, you are not meant to do life on your own!

Strategy 2: Recognise the signals of stress, fear and panic in your brain and body.

Panic, fear, nervousness are all part of your body and brain’s natural and built-in survival mechanism. Your brain is wired to detect threats or danger (real or perceived) to keep you safe and alive. This can trigger the fight/flight/freeze response (an evolutionary survival mechanism dating back from our hunter/gathering ancestors). The heart pounding, the quickened breath, the forehead/palms sweating, nervous knee bouncing, nail biting, etc. are all physical signs of stress. It pays to recognize what is happening in the body and brain as they arise. What are you feeling? Where are you feeling the stress?

Strategy 3: Name the fear / anxiety & befriend it!

When feeling nervous or panicky and experiencing the physical symptoms, naming and acknowledging the underlying fear can be hugely empowering and provide a sense of relief, contrary to what may feel comfortable or logical.

Naming the fear helps to process and release it from the body. Possible fears may include: fear of rejection; fear of humiliation; fear of failure.

For my client, acknowledging and naming her fear out loud (fear of freezing and of being made redundant) was a big part of releasing the anxiety.

Having a conversation with your fear and befriending it can help to dilute and diffuse it (rather than suppressing it which doesn’t allow for processing). Choosing to say something like “Hello fear! I recognize you’re there. Thank you for keeping me safe. Today I’m ok”, whilst it may sound a bit far-fetched, can help.

Strategy 4: Allow past (negative) experiences INFORM you of who you want to be and what you want to achieve this time.

A past negative experience does NOT mean it will happen again. The brain may tell you it will happen again (that’s the protective coping mechanism kicking in), but it doesn’t have to. Whilst you can’t take back past experiences, you CAN create a new one’s next time. Consider who and what you want this new experience to be:

  • Who you want to be (what qualities you wish to exhibit) this time around

  • What you’d like to achieve this time around

  • How you’d like to feel this time around

In the case of my client, the past negative experience triggered an old memory and fear of being made redundant. However, because she took action, sought help, and implemented some of these strategies, she avoided her past fears repeating themselves and becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy!

STRATEGY 5: Speak Kindly to yourself at times of stress (Do not beat yourself up)

When feeling stressed or anxious, it doesn’t help to beat yourself up. Stress is a normal and natural human reaction under pressure. Don’t fight it!

Stress also indicates that you care about something. You care about your credibility, you care about presenting yourself in your best light, you care about providing a useful and helpful contribution, you care about sharing your knowledge in a coherent way.

Berating yourself and being judgmental with yourself for feeling stressed or anxious does nothing for your self-esteem. Drop the negative self-talk!

The below kinder messages to yourself can help.

“Thank you brain and body for taking care of me.” “I’m ok.” “My best is good enough."

STRATEGY 6: Breath (Box Breathing)

Breathing helps to oxygenate the brain and body and regulate (calm down) the activated nervous system and fight/flight/freeze response. It can be very helpful to do before a big presentation when experiencing signs of stress or even panic. This can be practiced at any time of night or day by simply taking a few moments of quiet calm as you recognise the signals of stress or before that all important presentation. The more you practice this, the easier it will be to integrate at anytime of night or day.

Box breathing practice:

  • Breath in deeply for 4 counts

  • Hold your breath for 4 counts

  • Breath out entirely for 4 counts

  • Hold your breath for 4 counts

  • Repeat 3-5 times

Try it now. Notice how you feel after this short exercise.

Strategy 7: Practice Self-Care

To minimize/reduce signals of nerves or stress, it pays to bring attention to your self-care routine.

  • Are you getting enough sleep? It’s a known and well researched fact that lack of quality sleep can contributes to increase levels of stress. Our bodies and brains need sleep to recharge, rest and renew.

  • Physical exercise and movement can contribute to reducing symptoms of stress by oxygenating the brain and body, reducing harmful stress hormones (cortisol) and increases the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain which can help us feel mentally, physically, and emotionally happier and healthier.

  • Becoming aware of your eating and drinking behaviours around stressful periods can have a hugely positive or negative impact on stress and performance. The relationship between nutrition and stress (and vice versa) is now well researched and documented.

  • Find time for stillness, taking breaks, quiet and meditation to calm the body and the mind.

  • Find time for some levity and humour (e.g., with friends, with kids or watching something light/humorous).

STRATEGY 8: Prepare prepare prepare (simulate a stressful environment if appropriate)

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Knowing you have done your best in the preparation stage is one of the best ways to calm your nerves and stress. It also helps to build confidence of what you do know! If you are presenting with someone, prepare together to ensure alignment and shared purpose. Prepare for the Q&A also. If you get questions that are tricky or you don’t know, acknowledge them and say you’ll get back to them. You won’t get fired for that!

STRATEGY 9: Give yourself time before the presentation to get into the right energy and mindset

Allow 10 minutes of quiet time before any presentation or meeting (where possible). This helps to calm the nerves, get you into the right mindset, get comfortable in your environment and even visualise the meeting going well and through to a successful conclusion. During these 10 minutes, you may decide to do any of the following:

  • Check your environment: ensure your technology, speaker notes, presentation is ready (avoid the temptation to make final adjustments to presentation at this late stage – trust that what you’ve done is good enough).

  • Visualise how you will feel and what you will do AFTER a successful presentation/meeting. (Visualisation is a powerful tool for activating the imagination and the positive emotional circuitry and getting into the ‘felt experience’ of a successful meeting. Many athletes and top business people use this as a powerful tool.)

  • Breathe: practice box breathing to calm down the nervous system.

  • Use Positive Affirmation: Affirmations can be a powerful source of positivity and counteracting negative self-talk. They serve as a reminder of your worth, your value and what you are capable of. Try these affirmations (or choose your own) before the next big presentation or meeting:

    • I have everything I need to make this successful.

    • Everybody here wants me to succeed.

    • I have a valuable and helpful contribution to make to something larger than myself.

    • No matter what comes my way, I know that I have the ability to handle it.

    • Every day is a new opportunity for me to prove my skills and improve myself.

STRATEGY 10: Remember that YOU are the expert - Your audience wants your expertise

Your audience wants you to succeed. They are talking to you because of your experience, knowledge and insights. They also don’t know what you’re going to present – if you miss something, they’ll probably not catch it. They may challenge you in the Q&A – they are allowed to do that – but they want to hear from you because of your expertise and experience. Trust yourself and your experience.

STRATEGY 11: During the presentation - Pause, slow down & breathe

During any presentation/public speaking event, it’s perfectly legitimate to pause, take a breath, take a drink of water, ask your audience to repeat the question. This also helps to send a signal to your brain that you are safe. It calms down your nervous system, buys you a bit of time as well as ensuring that your audience get the information that they need at a pace that is digestible for them.

Strategy 12: Focus on Progress not Perfection

Know and trust that your best is good enough. When your focus is on improvement and learning rather than perfection, your energy and mindset will support you rather than deflate you or derail you. Perfection is impossible given that your idea of perfection is going to be different to someone else’s.

BONUS STRATEGY! Celebrate and acknowledge yourself after the presentation

An important part of integrating the learning and new (positive) experiences into the body and brain is to acknowledge and celebrate victories (no matter how big or small) after the event. This serves to send a signal to your brain and body that the activity is done and that you are OK and safe.


Here’s what happened with my client….

“My call just ended and I am headed to get my celebratory coffee!!!

I did shake at the beginning when I started speaking - to the extent I couldn’t move the mouse to share my screen. But I overcame it quite quickly this time & I don’t think anyone will have known.

You have helped me so much and hopefully things can only improve now. I feel very pleased.

You gave me confidence and tools.”

In conclusion, the objective is not to eliminate stress or nerves altogether. Know that some stress is helpful. We need an element of stress to get out of bed in the morning, to perform at our best and to stay focused.

Don’t make stress into the enemy. As a bonus resource, I’ve included a helpful Ted talk by Dr. Kelly McGonigal who helps us see stress as positive.

Please also share any other of your own stress-busting tips and strategies to help the wider community by sharing in the comments below and share this article with anyone you think may find it helpful.

If you're looking for support to cultivate and nuture your confidence, look no further. I will soon be launching a confidence challenge course THE CONFIDENCE MULTIPLIER to support leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs who want to continue to build confidence, trust their decision making without doubting themselves so that they can live and lead more authentically, courageously, and confidently.

Message meCONFIDENCE” if you want to find out more.


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