Fight nerves with preparation

Surveys consistently rank speaking in public as one of our greatest fears – more terrifying than heights, insects, financial problems, deep water – even death!

What this means, according to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, is that: ’at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the casket than the one giving the eulogy’.

In my work as a trainer I observe this to be close to the truth. One enormously capable woman I worked with recently told me she had walked out of her last job merely because they wanted her to go on a presentation skills training course!

Everyone I train wants to know why I don’t feel nervous about presenting and how they can stop feeling nervous. And the answer is that I do, and they can’t – and shouldn’t.

‘There are two types of speakers,’ said Mark Twain: ‘those that are nervous and those that are liars.’ Nerves are there for a reason – to give you the level of arousal and excitement you need to deliver an inspiring performance.

It would feel all wrong if I approached a presentation feeling relaxed and full of breezy confidence. And my performance would probably fall flat.

Okay, you might say, but nerves can be crippling; how can I stop myself turning into a trembling, gibbering, stuttering wreck?

This is where careful planning and preparation comes in. Excessive nervousness is often caused by fear about what might go wrong. If you minimise the opportunities for failure, you can keep those nerves within bounds.

So here’s what I advise:

  1. Prepare well and practise a lot. The more familiar you are with your own presentation the more it will seem like a comfort zone. Spontaneity is overrated – and often misrepresented. The late great Steve Jobs spent days practising his apparently off-the-cuff presentations;
  2. Liaise with the organisers well in advance about all the facilities and equipment you need, and check again close to the time;
  3. But don’t take any chances and be sure to take with you everything you can’t do without, including your laptop with the presentation loaded, the same presentation on a USB stick and your clicker (okay I never said I wasn’t a control freak!);
  4. Get to the venue at least 45 minutes early so you can scope out the space, check all the technical stuff works and – crucially – make sure you are happy with the position you are expected to present from. Most people will be perfectly accommodating if you ask them to change it.