Join Petrula Vrontikis for an in-depth discussion in this video Coping with nervousness, part of Running a Design Business: Presentation Skills.
A smart way to think about this, is that your audience will mirror what you are showing them. If you're relaxed and pleasant, they will be too. Many a presenter believes the audience is aware of their nervousness. This is not the case. The audience will give you the benefit of the doubt, believing you're there because you have something important to tell them. I'm often not aware a presenter is nervous until they pick something up and I see their hand is shaking. A presentation is a persuasive conversation where there's something big at stake, so we get nervous.
Everyone has experienced butterflies in their stomach. Just knowing what nervousness does to the body helps us objectively understand what's going on. Fear engages our Fight or Flight Mode. We experience the same physiological reaction today as we did when we were cavemen. Our bodies respond the same way to fear whether we're in front of a Saber Toothed Tiger, or a Board of Directors. Our autonomic nervous system controls the stuff we don't need to think about. Like breathing, digesting, and heartbeat.
In fear mode, energy is diverted from those actions out to our extremities so we can either defend ourselves or run away. Kind of crazy, isn't it? Let's tackle these issues one by one. Nervousness creates faster, shallower breathing. Actors and professional presenters always use breathing exercises to deepen and regulate the breath and calm the body down. Breathing techniques can be done discreetly so no one needs to know you're consciously preparing yourself to give a calm, clear presentation.
I've included some step-by-step examples in the resource files, but here's an easy one. Elongate your inhales and exhales, both to an even count. And increase that count slowly, even for five or ten minutes. This exercise can calm you down and help you focus. If you practice these breathing exercises consistently, you signal a sense of calm in your brain. Your body knows what you're trying to do, and reacts more easily.
When you're nervous, you don't digest well. My suggestion is that you eat light, and choose food that's easy to digest before you give a presentation. But be sure to eat something. It's easy to lose your composure while having a hypoglycemic fit. In the resource files, I've made recommendations as to what to eat and what to avoid. Also, drinking sodas or any kinds of milk products before you present coat your throat and can make you feel uncomfortable.
Watch out for too much caffeine. You're nervous enough. Stimulants won't help. And finally, avoid drinking alcohol before you present. It might seem like a good idea, but never is. When we're nervous we tend to speak quickly and the pitch of our voice rises. This is more of a problem for women than for men. Because our voices are already at a higher pitch. And for women, the perception of our speaking too quickly, using too many words, and raising the pitch of our voice can make us sound ditsy.
We immediately lose credibility. I recommend consciously lowering the pitch of your voice, and speaking slowly. Taking the time to annunciate your words. If your hands tremble when you're nervous, avoid picking things up. Use easels to prop up any visuals or simply place your hands on table for support. A very subtle lean of the body onto a table can comfort it and provide a bit of security.
These tips should really help you know what to expect, and how to prepare. You'll need to practice coping with your nervous reactions to calm yourself down. Over time, it'll come to you naturally. And you'll feel more ready for the challenges that are all part of being in the spotlight.
- Presenting one-on-one, to a team, or to a larger audience
- Choosing a presentation format
- Introducing your design and providing context
- Persuading your audience
- Developing visual aids
- Creating a great first impression
- Understanding verbal and nonverbal cues
- Getting approval
- Facilitating a Q&A session