Stage fright is horrible. The nerve-wracking anxiety that you're going to lose your notes, forget how to speak in public, or suddenly discover that you've arrived on the wrong day all contribute to many people being uncomfortable or unwilling to share their knowledge in public.
The truth is that even the best public speakers sometimes have anxiety over a presentation. What separates them from us is that they have learned to manage their anxiety, and even turn it into positive fuel for their performance.
Here are 14 tricks that can help you turn your performance nerves into presentation fuel.
Get There Early
Plan for all the making-you-late contingencies. Have a back-up outfit in your car, and allow for enough driving time to go the long way and have bad traffic. If you're doing an online presentation, test out the equipment with a friend in the office.
Even if you end up incredibly early, you can run through your notes one more time.
Do Jumping Jacks or Run in Place Backstage
Anxiety is, at its core, extra adrenaline with nowhere to go. Give it something to do. Run in place, jump in place, do a few jumping jacks, or stretch and do some yoga.
By activating your muscles and moving your body, you will decrease the anxiety while keeping the heightened awareness.
The biggest gift of meditation is the ability to focus your mind in the present moment. Practicing meditation regularly will help you slow your breathing, center your thoughts, and reduce your worrying.
Your "what if" thoughts might still intrude, but you'll find it easier to let them go and refocus.
Many entrepreneurs are fueled nearly entirely by coffee and tea, so suggesting you avoid caffeine the morning of a talk seems pretty counterintuitive. But at least make sure you don't load up on coffee right before starting a presentation.
The last thing you need is to spend the second half of your talk wondering where the bathroom is, and the caffeine can be anxiety fuel.
Keep Your Hands Busy
One of the biggest struggles for presenters can be deciding what to do with their hands. Figure this out ahead of time. Giving yourself something non-distracting to fidget with can help you stay calm. You can even work it into your presentation.
Accept That You Won't Be Perfect
No presentation goes off completely perfectly. It just doesn't happen. Focus on giving a great presentation, but accept that you're going to think of things you could have done later, places you could have been clearer, or wish that technical hiccups had gone more smoothly.
Greet Audience Members
Be available before the presentation begins; check in with audience members as they arrive. Thank them for coming, ask them where they just were, or start a light conversation.
The idea is to break the ice and more naturally transfer from "people arriving" to "presentation begins."
Change Your Inner Monologue
An anxiety fueled inner monologue sounds like "What if I fail?" Start to ask yourself "What if I succeed?" If you do well at this, what opportunities will this open up for you?
Survive 5 Minutes At A Time
If your presentation seems daunting, think of it in five minute blocks. You only need to survive one five minute chunk at a time.
Keep Calm, Stay Slow
One pitfall of inexperienced presenters is that they may speak very quickly due to their nervousness. Force yourself to listen to your speech and slow...down. This will make you more audible to attendees and audience members, and make it easier for them to follow what you're saying about the topic.
Don't Point Out Mistakes
If you stumble over words, or a slide is in the wrong order, or something goes wrong, don't point it out to the audience or get upset about it. Just correct yourself and move on.
Most people in the audience will have had the experience of making a mistake in public, and empathize with your situation. You don't need to point it out for them to do so.
Make A Checklist
The night before your presentation, make a checklist of everything you need to bring with you. In the morning, as you're getting ready, check off each item that you need as you pack it or get it ready.
This will help you stop your brain from circling around the "what have I forgotten" worry. You didn't forget it; you know because you checked it off.
Read Your Presentation Out Loud
Before you start your presentation or talk, take the time to read it out loud. Despite what English teachers like us to believe, spoken English and written English are very different, and sentences that are beautiful in written English sometimes sound convoluted and difficult to follow in speech.
Reading aloud gives you a chance to correct for these differences.
Focus On Specific Audience Members Periodically
When you're nervous, it's often helpful to focus at about eye level, which is usually over the level of the audience. This is a good tactic, but make sure to focus on different audience members occasionally, in order to connect with them.
Find people who are gazing at you, and return their gaze. Do not shame someone who's looking at their phone; that's just bad manners. They may be using it to take notes or share an insight before they forget.
By preparing for your presentation and managing your anxiety as you head in to it, you can make the entire experience more pleasant for yourself, and rock your presentation.