Presentation Anxiety

Watching the BAFTAs last night, seeing the host Richard E Grant, an excellent actor and performer, reminded me of several sessions I have had with clients.

I thought I would share some insights I have taken from coaching clients, both career and performance coaching, as I am often asked to support them to overcome their nerves or anxiety related to presentations.

Fear of speaking in public is common it creates a form of anxiety, ranging from slight nervousness to almost debilitating fear and panic. Known as Performance Anxiety, many people who experience this either avoid situations which require them to speak in public, or they suffer their way through with shaking hands and a quivering voice.

There are several strategies that can help you to prepare and the more you persevere, you can overcome Performance Anxiety.  The first step would be to try some of the strategies shared below, however If you can’t overcome your fear with practice alone, you might consider seeking professional help.  

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques and working with a NLP Coach is one option. A technique known as anchoring where we apply touch, gesture, or sound to a peak state so that it can be recalled or reactivated by reapplying the touch, gesture, or sound. NLP Coaches use anchoring to help clients overcome such anxiety and is defined by Tony Robbins as:

‘The process by which any representation (internal or external) gets connected to and triggers a subsequent string of representations and responses. Anchors can be naturally occurring or set up deliberately. An example of an anchor for a particular set of responses is what happens when you think of the way a special, much-loved person says your name.’

NLP Coaches elicit a resourceful state and pair an external stimulus with the internal resourceful state. It is a quick and effective technique that has worked with several clients. 

However, not everyone has access to an NLP Coach so there are other strategies to help individuals prepare and the more you practice and persevere you can overcome  anxieties that might hold some people back. 

  1. Knowledge – The better you know and understand what you’re talking about, you are more likely to care about the topic, therefore you will be less likely to go off track or make an error. So, if you do go off track, you’ll be able to recover. Thinking about the questions that the audience might ask is also worth taking time to prepare some responses so you don’t feel on the back foot. 
  2. Organisation – Planning ahead of time the information, visuals and audio will help to reduce any nerves. The more organised you are, the less nervous you will be. Have an outline of the presentation to help you stay on track and take time to know the venue and equipment you will be using for your presentation.
  3. Practice –  Practice your presentation several times. If you can, do it in front of people you feel comfortable with and get their feedback. If your presentation was videoed watch it back to see where you can improve your presentation skills in the future. 
  4. Challenge – We often overestimate the prospect of things that could go wrong. Writing a list of the specific concerns you have, then challenge them will help. Do this by identifying alternative outcomes or finding tangible evidence that supports each worry or the chance that the outcomes you fear will happen.
  5. Visualisation – See yourself making the presentation to visualise success and imagine it going well. Positive thoughts about your performance can help reduce negativity and alleviate anxiety.
  6. Breathing – Deep, slow breathing can be very calming. Taking a few deep, slow breaths before you begin and during the presentation can help to calm nerves.
  7. Focus – Your audience will pay attention to new information rather than how it is presented, so focus on your material rather than the audience. It is unlikely that they will know that you are nervous. 
  8. Silence – If your mind goes blank or you lose track, take it as a silent break. It might feel like a long time, but it will only be for a few seconds. It is a good opportunity to pause and give your audience time to catch up and process what you have been saying. Remember step 6 and take a few breaths.
  9. Celebrate success – Once you have finished your presentation take a step back and recognise your achievement. Did your worries from step 4 arise?  You will be more critical of yourself than your audience so view any mistakes as an opportunity to improve.
  10. Support. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and give positive feedback. You could join a group that offers support for people who have difficulty with public speaking or seek training. 

Try to remember that being nervous or anxious in situations is normal and speaking in public is no exception, even the most accomplished performers experience anxiety. 

I hope this works, let me know how you get on

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