When a golf championship is on the line, every professional player knows that an easy two-foot putt can suddenly trigger a panic attack. It's normal for their heart rate to rise and their hands to shake. But champions usually make those putts because they've practiced the right way.
I often use the golf analogy with public speakers who are preparing for mission-critical presentations: board meetings, television appearances, sales kickoffs (SKOs), or startup pitches to legendary venture capital firms.
In those cases, it's common for speakers--even those who are top experts in their field--to get a case of the jitters. They feel their heart rate rising and their palms sweating. Suddenly, they start to panic, because they're not used to those feelings.
The secret to delivering your best presentation is to expect the nerves to kick in and, like professional athletes, prepare for it.
The podcaster Tim Ferriss once said he had an unusual method to prepare for big presentations--he would do pushups to get his heart rate going before practicing the speech. It mimicked the feelings he might experience in the real speech. Ferriss said it helped to build his confidence when the pressure was on.
I'm not suggesting that you drop to the floor to do pushups, but putting some pressure on yourself in practice is a proven and effective way to build your public-speaking confidence.
Here are some ways to add pressure to your practice sessions.
Schedule the presentation in your calendar.
If you simply plan on making a presentation without interruption, you'll be mentally prepared for the actual event. If you're delivering the presentation remotely, schedule a Zoom invite and send it to yourself. And make sure you keep your appointment.
Turn on a selfie light to the brightest setting.
Get used to being in the spotlight, literally. If you're delivering the presentation in person on a stage, then find a room, stand up, and practice without stopping. If you're in a remote setting, practice under the conditions that you'll really experience--lights and all.
Practice in front of people.
A few years ago when I was invited to deliver a one-hour keynote for a prestigious international group of financial advisors, the conference organizers asked me to practice the entire presentation for about 20 members of the staff the day before the event. Although I didn't think I needed additional practice, I did it anyway to keep the organizers happy. Looking back, I'm glad I had the experience. Because the next day, I walked out in front of 10,000 people. Experiencing a little pressure in front of a smaller group built my confidence for the real thing.
It's natural for most people to get nervous during a presentation, because we are social beings and we crave acceptance. The secret to managing those feelings is to experience them, get used to them, and learn to control them before they get the best of you.