How can I control my nerves and gain confidence?

“How can I get over my nerves?” “I’ve been avoiding giving presentations and now my boss is starting to notice – can you help me?” “Can you just sprinkle some fairy dust over me and make me better?” These are the questions I often get from folks wanting to be better communicators. First of all, applause to you for wanting to up your game and recognizing enhancements can be made. The fairy dust part is harder to accomplish but I get it so we can work with that.

So…. how can you calm your nerves so you can be yourself, connect with your audience and deliver with passion?  Here are some tips to get you started:

Recognize that anxiety can be good:

At the heart of our anxieties is usually a desire to want to be good. It means you care and that’s a good thing. I like to say, if you don’t have a few butterflies before presenting you may not have a pulse. You just want to get the butterflies flying in formation vs. working against you.

Connection vs. perfection:

Trying to be a perfect presenter sucks the soul out of you and throws up a barrier between you and your audience.  Throw trying to be perfect out the window! Connecting can mean looking approachable, smiling when appropriate, making eye contact and thinking of your presentation as a conversation vs. lecture. Having done your homework present on topics that are of interest and centered on benefits for your audience. This is not a complete list on connecting however it will get you started and as you get comfortable you will begin to feel a flow of positive energy coming from the audience with head nods, some smiles, and other small acknowledgements that will feed your confidence. Believe this - they are actually rooting for you and want you to succeed. Why? Because no one wants to sit thru a bad presentation!

Deep breathing:

Sit up straight and take a slow deep breath from your diaphragm, hold it for a few seconds and then slowly let it out taking a few seconds longer to push it out than it took to breathe in. Doing this about 5 times in succession will allow you to start feeling a sense of calm. This sense of calm allows you to be more clear headed, allows you to think and start feeling more confident. 

It’s about your audience:

Be audience centered vs. “you” centered.  Some call this being “other centered.” Concentrating on your audience and the message you want them to receive tends to relieve the pressure on you. Your message has value and you are there to help them, inform them or even teach them how to do something.

Practice your delivery:

Don’t wing it. I’ll repeat that. Don’t wing it. Respect your audience and have a clear message about how your presentation will benefit them, what they will know by the time it is over, why you are a credible person to present it and strive to gain their interest right away. If you lose them in the first few moments, it will be very difficult to gain their attention again. Know your opening cold.

Practicing doesn’t stilt you, it gives you the freedom to be yourself so when there is an interruption, or a question, you can handle it naturally and get back on track. Practice in your mirror, to an empty sofa, to your dog or to colleagues and family.  Go over it enough times that you get very comfortable with the material and it starts to flow. Videotape yourself delivering as you would the day of your presentation – say your words out loud and look around the room. Play it back – are you better than you thought you would be or do you need some more practice?