Skip to main content

“How do I deal with nerves?” This question always comes up on presentation skills training. From working withnerves hundreds of people, I’ve refined the solutions down to 3 Top Tips:

  1. Know your stuff
  2. Breathe deeply
  3. Tell yourself you are the right person to do this

1.     Know your stuff

When I ask people, “Think of times when you are confident, what is going on?” They always tell me that they feel confident because they know their topic. This may be about having the facts and figures to hand, or it may be knowing the stories around the topic and having a sense of other people’s opinions.

Know your stuff is about preparing properly for the presentation.  Make sure you do have the facts, the anecdotes and the opinions and that you have crafted a strong narrative to make your point.

How much preparation

How much you need to know will depend on how long your talk is.  If you only have 10 minutes, there is a limit to how many points you can make and the amount of detail needed, so you need to focus in on the core messages. You won’t need to know everything around the topic, stick to the key messages. This means that, if you get a question on an area you did not include in your talk, you can respond by saying that you will connect with the individual off-line as this is beyond the scope of the talk.

When you are speaking for a long session, clearly you will present a lot more information and will need to be suitably prepared.  Do allocate sufficient time in your schedule for this preparation. One hour for an hour’s talk is not enough, a rough rule of thumb of 10:1 for a topic you know about is a good starting point.  You add value as a speaker by the quality of your insights and argument, so give yourself enough time to prepare your convincing case.

The better your preparation, the more confident you will feel and the better your results.

2.     Breathe deeply

So you are about to stand up and speak and you can feel the nerves starting to kick in, the adrenalin is pumping. Adrenalin is your body’s way of ensuring that you are alert and ready, so mentally saying “Thank you” to your body is a great way to change the feeling from one of fear to one of readiness to deal with the situation.

Breathe deeply into your diaphragm. Breathe in slowly and deeply to a count of at least 6, then slowly exhale to a count of 6.  Do this at least 6 times.  Instinctively our bodies breathe more shallowly in a state of fear, so by breathing deeply you are telling your body that you are relaxed and all the natural mechanisms associated with being relaxed will kick in.  By consciously choosing to relax the body through deep breathing, you will feel and think relaxed and yet the brain remains alert.

The added bonus of deep breathing is that your voice will be deeper and the pace of speaking slower, which all show confidence to the audience.  They will feel that they are in the hands of a confident speaker, which allows them to relax and you will get the positive feedback, which further encourages you to relax.

Deep breathing is my top tip for helping you to deal with many situations not just deal with nerves before presentations.

3.     Tell yourself you are the right person to do this

To deal with nerves, I explore with people what is going on for them when they feel nervous.  It turns out that they are telling themselves a most disempowering story! “I can’t stand up and talk on this topic in front of my peers and bosses, they must know more than me and what if I get it wrong?!” “These people will be judging me and I feel I’m not good enough”.

This voice is most unhelpful and is limiting your self-belief. When you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t be surprised if other people don’t believe in you and your message either.  So you need to quash this negative voice and replace it with a supportive and helpful one.

First, what is an opposite belief that you find credible? It’s important that you do believe what you’re telling yourself, so sometimes you can’t take the complete opposite version as that will feel like a step too far. How about: “I am the right person to talk on this topic as it’s my area and I am more directly involved in this and know more about the day-to-day realities than anyone. That’s why I’ve been asked to speak.”  “Everyone is here to learn more and I can contribute by sharing my knowledge and experience.” “The audience want me to do well as that is in their interests, they are supporting me.”

Change limiting beliefs to helpful ones

Now you need to quash the old voice and embed the new one:

  • Every time you notice your thinking going off down the negative track, stop it immediately and replace the negative thought with a positive and helpful one
  • You can use your positive helpful belief as a mantra – say it to yourself every day, multiple times
  • Keep a diary or journal note of the times you have used the positive belief and the results you have achieved. This is physical evidence to prove to the old voice that it’s wrong and encourage embedding of the new voice

Thinking the right thoughts as you prepare and immediately before you stand up to speak, puts you in the right mind-set to deliver your talk with confidence.

Many great leaders had a habit of telling themselves empowering messages. Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists, used to tell himself before a client session: “I am not perfect, that would not be good enough, but I am human and that is enough”

We are what we think, so think the thoughts that are helpful.

To deal with nerves follow these 3 powerful tips and you will learn to speak with confidence, whether it’s a presentation, business meeting, negotiation or interview:

  1. Know your stuff
  2. Breathe
  3. “You are the right person”

Please leave your comments or questions below, whether on how to deal with nerves, or related topics, I’m happy to respond to questions. Or email Amanda direct.

If you enjoyed this article, you may like to sign up to receive articles when they are published.


Leave a Reply