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Better Presentations: Overcoming the Fear of Presenting

Category: Business English Skills, Language Training | 2017-06-04

It is a well-known fact, that most of us have some fear of presenting. We get nervous, butterflies in our stomach and sweat way more than we should. In fact, surveys have shown that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death.

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way! In today’s blog, we will look at the fear of presenting and some techniques to overcome this fear. Let’s get started!

The Fear of Presenting

There is a small percentage of us, roughly 10%, who really get off on public speaking. They are pumped up before a talk and get a big thrill out of being in front of a crowd.

Another 10% of us, fear it above all things. Those who suffer from glossophobia experience gut-wrenching anxiety and will go to great lengths to avoid speaking in public. They may experience nausea or panic attacks, even at the thought of presenting to a group.

The rest of us, well, we just don’t like it. Sure, we may get some butterflies, or even lose some sleep the night before. But, we power through and come out alive on the other side.

What these groups have in common is a reaction to the idea of standing in front of a group for all to see. And that reaction is adrenaline, the hormone produced by the adrenal gland in the fight-or-flight response. Luckily, this is something that we can learn to control and actually use to our advantage.

Let’s look at how we do that.

Overcoming the Fear of Presenting

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Acknowledge the Fear

The first thing we need to do if we have a fear of presenting is to acknowledge the fear. We have to realize that we are afraid, and that this is not only natural, but can be beneficial. This fear creates adrenaline, which our bodies produce to help deal with frightening situations. Now, this response was probably not designed to deal with public speaking. But rather to help us handle encounters with lions, tigers and grizzly bears. Nevertheless, the principle is the same. Our body is giving us the tools to fight off the fear and conquer our enemy. In this case, a room full of our peers and colleagues.

fear of presenting, MacPherson Language Institute

The problem with giving presentations is that there is no immediate physical outlet for this additional energy. So, it has to go somewhere. This often results in speakers “dancing” on stage, tapping their fingers or fidgeting in general. For some, they become stiff and monotone, and others speed up like an F1 race car.

The key to dealing with this response lies in how we define these “symptoms”. Most people start to feel the butterflies and then focus on how nervous they are and their potential screw-ups. Instead, try to turn this around to your benefit. Tell yourself that these feelings are your body’s way of telling you, “You’re ready!”. Your body is preparing itself for a bear fight. Embrace this adrenaline and use it to pump yourself up to speak.

Prep Your Attitude

This is where the second point comes in. Take the adrenaline and redirect it towards the positive energy that you want to present on stage. Now, rushing the stage growling and foaming at the mouth may not be exactly the way to go. But, positivity is contagious. And if you take the stage with the confidence to take down a bear, people will respond to that.

You also have to channel your energy. Some presentations are meant to be given on a grand scale, like sales pitches, for example. Others, like a financial report, may need a more stoic approach. Either way, try to prepare mentally and give yourself the momentum you need to perform correctly. Great actors do this before any major scene to come into the shot on beat. Check out Jack Nicholson warming up for his iconic scene in “The Shining”.

Take a Deep Breath

The next thing to do, is to breathe. Adrenaline often causes us to take short breaths. This can create a downward spiral as our body is trained to react to a shortening of breath with excitement. Add more adrenaline, rinse and repeat!

Breathing deeply has a calming effect on our minds and our bodies. Take a moment to breathe deeply, focusing on the movement of the air. Follow it in through the nose, into the lungs and back out through the mouth. Take a good ten to twelve deep breaths and watch as the anxiety rolls off your shoulders.

fear of presenting, MacPherson Language Institute

For more information on breathing, check out this great article by Emma Seppällä, Ph.D.: The Scientific Benefits of Breathing

Blow Off Some Steam

Another effective way of dealing with the fear of presenting, is to blow off a little steam. An hour or so before you present, go for a walk, do some yoga or punch a heavy bag. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but get out there and do it.

Exercise is a great way to clear your mind and free your body of the excess energy you have been building up. But make sure you save some energy for your presentation, you still have to take down a bear!

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Putting it All Together

Nobody is saying that giving a presentation isn’t frightening. For most of us, the fear of presenting is a very real thing. However, with a solid understanding of where that fear comes from and how it affects us, we can learn what to do with it. Acknowledge the fear, prepare yourself, take a deep breath and do some exercise. These techniques can help you manage your fear, and even harness it into a better presentation.

What do you do to manage your fear of presenting? Do you go for a run, or meditate with some breathing exercises? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter for more tips, articles and exclusive deals. Thanks for reading!



4 thoughts on "Better Presentations: Overcoming the Fear of Presenting"

  1. olga says:

    Thank you for sharing this great resource. I’ll use it preparing for public presentations and will recommend to my colleagues.

    1. My pleasure! I am glad you found it useful. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  2. Saima says:

    Deep breaths, a cool drink or gum go a long way in keeping me grounded and calm.
    It’s not always possible but nice to have at least one familiar friendly face in the audience too.

    1. Thanks for commenting! A cool drink is a great thing to have. It not only keeps you from getting dry mouth (terrible in front of a crowd), but also makes for a nice natural break to collect your thoughts.
      Friends in the audience has always been a double-edged sword for me. It’s nice to have the support, but I also feel a little more pressure having someone I know watch me.

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