Public speaking is stressful but it's an essential skill to have if you want to communicate your ideas in a business world. A great presentation can land you a life-changing deal, while a bad one can lose you your job.
After practicing enough, mastering your subject, doing your homework and knowing your audience, is there anything else you can do to stay calm?
The source of your fear
When you stand up for that presentation, you're putting yourself and your self-esteem on a podium to be judged.
You have no control over another person's thoughts, so you can't control what your audience thinks of you.
Two potent psychological stressors come together here to trigger a stress response: the threat to your self-esteem and the threat of "uncertainty," or not having control over the situation.
Have a mission
Every talk comes with a mission: you're giving something to your audience that is deeper than the immediate content of your talk.
For instance, if you're pitching a product that solves a problem you've identified, your mission might be to inform your audience of the problem so everyone's life can be improved, not to sell as many items of your product as possible.
In the minutes before a presentation, we tend to focus on the talk and forget all about the mission behind it. Instead, focusing on the mission rather than the talk can prevent the dreaded stress response when you stand up to speak, through the effect of "self affirmation."
Focus on your mission, not your talk
Self-affirmation means thinking about and appreciating your good actions, values and qualities. A study on university students found that spending ten minutes on a self-affirmation exercise before experiencing a psychological stressor that threatened their self-esteem, reduced their stress response.
According to the study, actively focusing on your mission and on the good that your talk will do just before you begin your presentation (instead of going through your slides and rehearsing what you're going to say) can dampen your stress response when you stand up to speak.
Your mission gives you confidence by guarding your self-esteem
Your self-esteem is threatened by social evaluation when you stand on that podium. Self-esteem is tightly bound to self-confidence. If one is threatened, so is the other.
Having a purpose protects your self-esteem from social evaluation and keeps your self-confidence intact.
A presentation, in a way, is an exercise in leadership, where you are leading your audience through your narrative. If you exude confidence and high self-esteem, your audience will accept you as their leader and trust you to tell your story.