Presentations and stage fright

Unless you were born on stage or are a very relaxed person, chances are that you feel nervous before a presentation, and also during the first few minutes. I’m often asked what I suggest to tackle stage fright, and I would like to share some ideas here.
The most important thing to do, in my experience: know your material, and do a thorough preparation. If you know what you‘re talking about, you‘ll feel less insecure.
This is better than any breathing exercise – of course breathing exercises are not useless. But they can‘t be a substitute for a lack of preparation.

I know that it can be difficult to be prepared if you boss asks you 10 minutes before an important meeting to hold a presentation someone else has prepared.

Let’s start with the easier bit, you know that you will do a presentation, you know the topic and you know when it will happen.
I’ve written about preparing a presentation before (https://andreahartenfeller.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/presenting-like-steve/), so I’ll jump right into the „anti stage fright“ box of ideas.

If you’re already nervous, be nice to yourself and don‘t make any last-minute changes to your presentation. Your slides will be good enough, if you’ve taken enough time to prepare, and changing them right before the actual presentation won’t help.

Confidence comes with practice, so rehearse your presentation. Talk to yourself in front of the mirror, talk to your cat, your dog, your spouse or the tree in the garden. It might feel odd at first, but it will help you feel better on stage. When you see people presenting and think, wow, what a good presenter, don’t assume they’re all naturals. They’ll probably have rehearsed a lot. The more you can practice beforehand, the better. And each successful presentation will make you more relaxed.

Feel the fear of public speaking, but don‘t let this fear overwhelm you.
Everyone‘s nervous. It‘s normal. It‘s okay.
Use positive self-talk. Tell yourself it will be alright.

Before your presentation, you can:
– listen to music you like
– walk the stairs
– talk to the audience, colleagues or other presenters
– sing a song in your head while you wait
– think about something good

If you want, you can relieve tension by doing some muscle relaxation exercises.
When you have the time, tense up your muscles one after the other and relax deliberately. Start with one hand, then the arm, shoulder, chest, abdomen, upper leg, lower leg, and the foot. And then the other side.
Do some stretching, if you like. Raise yourself on tiptoes, and then slowly come down, but imagine your head stays up in the higher position. This will stretch your spine and help you feel more in control.
When you don’t have much time, or there are too many people around you, simply make a fist and relax. Do this several times, and you will feel your body respond.

If you need to wake yourself up, move around, rub your hands, pull your earlobes, get some fresh air.

When you’re finally on stage, take a deep breath and don’t start with an apology.
Don’t tell the audience how nervous you are, that you really didn’t have enough time to prepare the presenation, that your computer might not show the pictures in the right colours or any other piece of information which will only make you feel stupid and which is of no interest to the audience.

Always remember that the audience won‘t notice small mistakes. And most people in the audience would probably be as nervous if they had to present, so don’t worry too much.

You can choose how you want to start your presentation, so choose what you’d feel comfortable with in the first few minutes, and do it.
When I was in my final years at school, I was part of an amateur theatre. Once we did some sort of cabaret piece based on German fairy tales, and my role was to play piano and accompany the actors and singers. I was suffering a lot more from stage fright then than I do now, so I had to think about something, and found the solution in the music. I changed the ouverture slightly so that I could start with a nice tremolo (shaking) with both hands. After I had done that, I felt fine. Everybody loved the ouverture, I had given myself more time to get into the right mood, and by the 10th performance, I was totally relaxed even before the first notes.
Small tricks like this are allowed, so do whatever makes you feel good.

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