? I'm very nervous about the presentation, I'm not sure if I can go through with it. It's days away and already my palms are sweaty and I have butterflies in my stomach. How can I cope with these nerves?
? Are there any practical techniques I can use to control my nerves on the day of the presentation?

I'm very nervous about the presentation, I'm not sure if I can go through with it. It's days away and already my palms are sweaty and I have butterflies in my stomach. How can I cope with these nerves?

First, this is normal. Research shows that public speaking is one of people's greatest fears, but while a little nervousness can give an 'edge' to your presentation, you'll have difficulty delivering an effective message if you're shaking all over and your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth!

So how do you overcome the fear? The most effective way is through preparation and practice. Understand your subject, know how to use your equipment and check that it's functioning properly, and rehearse until you’re comfortable.

Joining a public speaking organization such as Toastmasters, or completing a public speaking course will also do wondersfor your confidence. There are specialist companies offering training in use of presentation equipment.

Here are some tips which may also improve your confidence:

  1. See yourself as helpful. You have something extremely valuable to give an audience. That something may be entertainment -- a presentation of humorous anecdotes and visuals that leave people with a good feeling. Or it may be information -- facts, figures, details and explanations of new ideas, plans, proposals, or products. Naturally, if you hold negative attitudes about making presentations, this idea about helping an audience seems like nonsense. But put yourself in your audience’s place and consider their motivations. They may need better products or more effective sales programs or improved sales. If your presentation tells them how to get what they want, you’re doing them a favor. Even if your productor plan isn’t the right one for them, that information is still helpful. And that means you’re helpful. So see yourself this way.

  2. See yourself as prepared. There’s no better way to get yourself in the right frame of mind for a presentation than to rehearse. Confidence and competence come with practice. Rehearse over and over until you’re familiar and comfortable with your material.

  3. See yourself as in control. When you’re in control, you’re confident. You’re in charge and you call the shots. Preparation is a key element in achieving this level of confidence.

You're in control if:

  • you know what you want to accomplish

  • you know how to appeal to your audience's motivations

  • you know how to write your script, assemble your visuals, and operate your equipment

In fact, every decision that you make and every act that you engage in gives you another measure of control. Remember that. Dwell on that. It's the most powerful confidence-builder you can use.

Are there any practical techniques I can use to control my nerves on the day of the presentation?

Yes. They range from meditation techniques through to what you eat before your presentation. Everyone is different so it's a matter of finding what works for you.

One tip that seems to work for everyone is to regulate your breathing. Slow, deep breathing exercises will slow down your heartbeat, reduce the release of adrenaline and help you to feel more relaxed. You should start working on breathing slowly about one hour before you are due to present and take deep breaths when you feel nervous, during natural pauses in your presentation.

Other ideas include practicing yoga or other relaxation techniques (there are hundreds of classes available in every capital city for yoga, Zen, meditation and other relaxation techniques). These will also help you control your breathing and achieve a more relaxed state of mind. Laughter is also a great help, so if you confidently introduce a humorous story (which relates to the topic and is not likely to offend anyone in the audience) near the start of your talk, do so. This way you will feel more relaxed and so your audience will be more receptive.

One popular and successful technique, often employed by nervous sports people, is visualization. Use your imagination to visualize yourself on stage making a successful presentation. Imagination is a powerful tool which can be used to create negative or positive images in your mind. Choose positive, successful images of yourself in a winning situation and you'll feel more positive and therefore, less nervous.

Be careful of what you eat and drink prior to the presentation. Soft drink and dairy food will make your mouth feel dry and ice will tighten your throat. Coffee or tea will make you more nervous, while drugs and alcohol will prevent you from thinking clearly. It's best to stick to light foods before the presentation and to sip tepid water with a dash of lemon juice, which will help keep your throat clear.

During your rehearsals, ask someone to check for any nervous habits, such as jangling spare change in your pocket. You'll need to combat these nervous habits as they can distract your audience and detract from your message.

During your presentation, aim to start confidently, speak clearly and slowly (around 150 words a minute is best, if in doubt, time yourself during rehearsals and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that you'll speak more quickly when you’re nervous.), smile (where appropriate), make eye contact with audience members and use a warm vocal tone (around the middle of your range, i.e., between your deepest voice and your highest. If in doubt, a deeper tone will be perceived as more authoritative).

Wear conservative clothing, clean shoes and be well groomed. This may seem strange, but if you’re well groomed and well dressed, people will not be distracted by your clothes and will be more inclined to take you seriously.

Make sure you stick to your stated time limit, and incorporate some time at the end of your presentation for audience questions.

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