Palms sweating, forehead burning, lightheadedness, room spinning, choking on air. And you haven’t even hit the stage yet to give your presentation. Worse than that: you’re probably a week out from the date of your upcoming presentation.
Gasp! How will you ever be able to give a good presentation like this?
If that sounds like your current worst-nightmare scenario, you’re experiencing presentation anxiety. Which sucks, I know.
The good news? There are ways to fix it! In this article I'll give you 14 ways to give a good presentation without suffering from anxiety.
But first let’s establish some ground rules:
What Is a Good Presentation?
At its most basic level, a good presentation is one in which the presenter doesn’t throw up on stage, and the audience doesn't fall asleep. Okay, that’s a very basic level.
On a higher level a good presentation checks off these three boxes:
Informative. A good presentation contains all the necessary information and only the necessary information to make a point. Showering your audience with extraneous facts and figures, no matter how accurate or valid they may be, will only send them into snooze-land.
Impressive. Impressive doesn’t mean that you've got to set off fireworks or arrange for Hollywood-style explosions to take place during your presentation. But it does mean that your presentation needs to include visual content to help impress your words onto your audience’s mind. Visual content can be images, graphs, video, or even something as simple as expressive body language and meaningful gestures.
- Storytelling. The human mind loves stories. Both oral information and visual expression can quickly bore an audience if they've got no meaning, no structure, or greater purpose. But tie the two things together in an interesting series of events that take the audience on a journey, and you’ve got them hooked by the nose!
If you’re looking for tips and ideas on how to give a presentation that inspires your audience to action, make sure you check out the following guide:
- Presentations10 Creative Presentation Ideas: That Will Inspire Your Audience to ActionJulia Melymbrose
Or, download our new eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations. It's available for FREE with the Tuts+ Business Newsletter. Learn how to write, design, and deliver the perfect presentation.
But you can't easily tell a great story and connect the informative points to your audience, if you let nerves get in the way of your presentation.
Today, we’ll be taking things a step further and looking into how you can deliver an awesome presentation without letting anxiety or nervousness hold you back.
Worst-Case Scenario Management
The thought giving a presentation can shoot your anxiety level off the charts because the act of speaking before an audience plays on some of our biggest fears as humans, which are: the fear of failure and the fear of rejection.
Now add to that mix the possibility that our failure may take the form of public humiliation on stage, and our rejection being delivered live from a booing audience, and you can easily see why presentations can cause paralysis by anxiety.
The best way to combat your presentation anxiety, though it may sound counterintuitive at first, is to think about the worst-case scenario. What’s the worst thing that can happen?
You shouldn’t think about this so you can wallow in your misery, but so you can take preventative measures against it and dispel your anxiety knowing that you’re fully prepared.
In fact, worst-case scenario thinking is a concept that’s often used in risk management to strategically plan how to tackle a big problem or major event. And in the case of how to give a good presentation your worst-case scenario planning looks like this:
14 Ways to Eliminate Your Presentation Anxiety
1. Think About the Audience, Not Yourself
No, I don’t mean that you should imagine the audience in their underwear—or even naked! I don’t know who came up with that idea, but in all honesty, it never helps me when preparing for a presentation. It just makes me feel awkward and embarrassed.
What I do mean is that you should shift your focus from yourself to your audience. The reason you’re so anxious you can’t breathe right now is because you’re thinking about yourself:
- How will I appear on stage?
- What will the audience think of me?
- What if I mess us up?
- What if they hate me?
Well, no wonder you’re biting your nails down to the cuticles!
Instead of thinking about all the ways you can mess up, turn the spotlight on your audience and think about all the ways you can help them by giving a good presentation:
- What will your audience learn from you in this presentation?
- In what ways will your presentation benefit your audience?
- How will your message or knowledge help improve people’s lives?
Once you start focusing on the purpose of your presentation and the importance of that purpose for your audience, you’ll realize that no one wants you to fail! Far from being there to judge you and see if you’re any good, your audience wants you to give a good presentation. They want to learn something from you.
How can you best serve your audience? What should you tell them? Focus on them instead of yourself, and you’ll feel your anxiety melt away.
2. Use Building Blocks
Presenters often worry that they’ll forget their words during the presentation.
Well, so what if you do? I don’t mean that you should freeze on stage and stand there saying nothing, but your presentation is about the core message you want to deliver, not about the specific words you use to deliver that message.
Whether your presentation will run for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or even more, you can stay focused on your topic and keep your rhythm going by breaking down your presentation into 10-minute building blocks. Each building block should focus on just one point you want to make.
You can also visually structure your presentation around these blocks, by using section title slides that stand out visually. Notice below in the Agio PowerPoint template slides how different slides stand out to indicate a new section with a bold heading. This simple technique breaks up the visual rhythm of your regular slides and allows you to quickly pinpoint where your blocks are.
Not only does this make it easier for you to remember your presentation than if you tried to memorize the whole thing off as one piece, but it also gives you a lifeline in case you “mess up.” Forgot one point and skipped ahead to the next one? No problem, just backtrack to your previous building block and pick it right up again.
Knowing that all you've got to do is present three building blocks, for example, makes the task a lot less daunting than thinking about having to deliver a 30-minute presentation. And when you hit the stage you’ll be much more relaxed, calm, and engaging.
3. Plan to Pause
Another benefit of breaking down your presentation into 10-minute building blocks is that you can plan your pauses.
Hitting your pauses is just as important for giving a good presentation as hitting your main points is. Rushing through your presentation will not only leave you exhausted and breathless, but it'll also leave your audience feeling overwhelmed and lost.
Don’t rush through your points, and don’t rush your audience. Pause to give them time to consider what you said and to give yourself time to gather your thoughts and tackle your next point.
4. Prepare Your PowerPoint Early
Whether you’re presenting before an audience at a conference, or before a prospective client, you’re likely to use visual aids such as a PowerPoint during your presentation.
And the worst thing you can do to yourself is to leave your visual presentation planning to the last minute. Even if you don’t think about it consciously, knowing that you still have to prepare your PowerPoint can add unnecessary stress to the days leading up to your preparation.
As soon as you finalize your speech, get to work on your PowerPoint presentation and have it ready well in advance so you can relax and focus on perfecting your delivery.
If you’re looking for cool and powerful presentation templates to complement your presentation, check out some of the best, trending presentation templates on Envato Elements. The X Note PowerPoint template is a great choice and one of the most popular for sale on our marketplace:
And if you need more guidance about the features and advantages of recommended templates, browse through our Ultimate Guide to the Best Microsoft PowerPoint Templates, or have a look at the curated articles below:
- PresentationsBest New Presentation Templates of 2016 (PowerPoint, Keynote, & Google Slides)Sean Hodge
- Microsoft PowerPoint19+ Best PowerPoint PPT Template Designs for 2019Sean Hodge
- PresentationsThe Best New Presentation Templates of 2019 (PowerPoint & More)Sean Hodge
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
Ever heard stand-up comedians talk about how they prepare for routines? Even though when you’re watching them on stage it may seem like they’re just improvising or coming up with jokes on the fly, the truth is that everything they do and say comes as a result of relentless practice and repetition—even their pauses.
And you’d be wise to follow the same advice when preparing your presentation to minimize performance anxiety.
Practice, practice, practice.
And practice not just your words, but also your visual presentation. Practice what you’ll say, what you’ll show, what you'll do, and how the two will come together.
Practice not until your presentation sounds rehearsed and memorized, but until you’ve so internalized your points that your presentation sounds natural.
6. Record and Review
Body language can sometimes speak louder than words. Do you appear confident when you present your proposal to prospective clients? Do you appear knowledgeable or doubtful about your topic of expertise? Do you come off as friendly and approachable or stuck up and conceited?
You don’t have to wonder about those things or worse worry about them. Take action and clear your doubts. Record yourself on your phone or camera and see how you look giving your presentation. Go over your recording and make notes for improvement.
If possible, ask some friends or colleagues over to act as your audience. Or practice in an open conference room with a group of your peers. Not only will it be better for you to practice before a live audience, but you’ll also have their feedback on ways to improve your stage presence.
7. Get There Early
Ever got stuck in traffic and arrived late at the office for a regular day’s work? Stressful, wasn’t it? What about running late for a meeting? More stressful, right? Knowing that others were expecting you and that you’d show up late making a bad impression.
Now imagine showing up late to your presentation. Yikes! How’s that for a worst-case-scenario that can keep you up at night!
Instead of taking that risk or letting the anxiety of that possibility destroy your nerves, simply take the opposite route and plan to arrive early. As early as possible.
Arriving early gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with your surroundings so you can feel more at ease during your presentation. If your presentation will take place at a large event or a conference, you’ll have the time to meet and greet the organizers, other presenters, or even some of the audience members before you go on stage.
Even if you can’t get into the place of your presentation early (like, for example, you’re presenting a project proposal to a prospective client), you can still take a walk near the building where you’re presenting, relax, clear your mind, and prepare for your presentation without worrying about time, the traffic, or anything else extraneous.
8. Test the Technology
Another benefit of arriving early is that you can ask to test the technology to make sure everything will run smoothly during your presentation.
Depending on the type and size of the event at which you’re presenting, you’ll have different levels of control and access to the technology beforehand. But asking to run a technology test before your presentation is always the smart thing to do.
And don’t show up with just one version of your visual presentation on one device and hope, pray, and cross your fingers it'll work. That'll only kick your anxiety into overdrive just minutes before your presentation.
Always have your presentation saved on a variety of media (such as a USB, your laptop, and web-based storage space) that you can access in a variety of ways should anything go wrong. Have a cable that links your laptop to a projector? Take it along with you. You never know if you may need it.
Technology can sometimes fail us, but there’s no reason to let that cause you anxiety. Simply prepare beforehand so you can remain calm during any mishaps.
9. Breathe Deeply
Not just metaphorically. Literally.
Deep breaths have been scientifically proven to help us relax, reduce our stress levels, and improve our outlook on the situation at hand.
Right before going on stage or entering the presentation room take 5-10 deep breaths slowly inhaling as much air as you can and slowly exhaling it back out. The practice will help you relax, focus, and dispel any minor anxiety that may still linger after your thorough preparation.
Feeling calm, centered, and confident, go up there and crush it!
10. Mingle With Your Audience
Knowing that you've got to get on the stage and speak in front of a room full of strangers is enough to make anyone nervous, even the most experienced speakers. Consider chatting with your audience members before the presentation.
By doing so, you'll not only present yourself as more approachable, but you'll also feel less like you’re talking to complete strangers, not to mention you might even find extra points to add to your presentation.
Another benefit of getting to know your audience before the presentation is that they'll feel more engaged with you, which increases the chances of them paying attention throughout the presentation.
11. Remember to Hydrate
Dry mouth isn't uncommon when you’re dealing with anxiety and it only gets worse when you've got to talk for a long period of time. A serious case of cottonmouth will only make your anxiety worse and leave you dealing with a Catch 22.
That’s why it’s important to stay hydrated throughout your presentation. Prevent cotton mouth by drinking plenty of water before your presentation, but do remember to hit the bathroom right before you start.
You should also have a glass or a bottle of water handy to take a drink during your presentation in case your mouth gets dry.
It’s a well-known fact that a smile is the most recognizable facial expression. Some studies even suggest that people can recognize a smile from 300 feet away, not to mention a simple smile can instantly boost your mood.
The key takeaway: smile during your presentation. This will make you seem more approachable not to mention you'll put a smile on your audience’s faces as well. It'll also make you appear more confident.
Getting regular exercise is a great way to combat anxiety in general as physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety-related symptoms. Hitting the gym the morning of your big presentation will ensure you get endorphins running high while keeping your anxiety levels low.
If exercise isn't a part of your routine, consider going for a short, brisk walk before your presentation. Some studies suggest that a 10-minute walk can have the same benefits as a 45-minute work so do make sure to get your blood pumping.
14. Avoid Caffeine
While caffeine can help you remain alert, it can also raise your anxiety levels so cut back on coffee and any caffeinated beverages the day before and the day of your presentation.
Try replacing your coffee with a caffeine-free herbal tea, stay hydrated, and remember to eat a balanced diet with proteins to reduce your hunger.
Learn More About Making a Good Presentation (With PowerPoint)
Once you’ve calmed your anxiety and feel confident about the presentation, don’t forget to spend some time optimizing your PowerPoint slide deck. Making sure that your presentation design is top notch will also help you feel more confident.
Designing a good presentation with PowerPoint might seem daunting, but the good news is that there are tons of tutorials and resources to help you out. Here are a few recommended articles to get you started:
- PresentationsHow to Write a Professional PowerPoint Presentation (Discover the Writing Process)Brad Smith
- Microsoft PowerPointHow to Make a Good PowerPoint Design Even BetterSven Lenaerts
- Microsoft PowerPointHow to Create a PowerPoint Presentation From a PPT TemplateSven Lenaerts
Download Our Free PDF eBook on Making Great Presentations
We've got the perfect complement to this tutorial, that'll help you take your presentation knowhow further. Learn how to write, design, and deliver great presentations.
Download The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations for FREE with a subscription to the Tuts+ Business Newsletter. Get your ideas formed into a powerful presentation that'll move your audience.
Presenting Without Anxiety
How do you prepare for your presentations before a large or small audience?
Which part causes you the most anxiety and which of these tips are you going to try?
Do you have any other ways for combating presentation anxiety before going up on stage?
Editorial Note: This post was originally published in October of 2016. It's been comprehensively revised to make current, accurate, and up to date by our staff—with special assistance from Brenda Barron.