The stage is yours

7 tips for beating anxiety and delivering amazing presentations

As a communications professional, I’m going to guess that you’ve delivered a fair few presentations in your day – whether reporting on the impact of campaigns or pitching new initiatives and business. Presentation anxiety has probably affected you at some stage, even when there are no identifiable elements to fear – it’s a completely normal response to the unknown.

We at Buffalo7 are presentation design and communication specialists – these are the tips we developed to help you to get a handle on your nerves and turn them into something more positive.

1. Turn nerves into positive energy

Don’t let anxiety become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell yourself that you’re nervous and that you’re going to fail, then you’ll internalise these ideas and be more likely to do exactly that.

Instead, focus on the positive: think about how excited you are to engage with the audience and share your ideas. This conscious enthusiasm will then show through when you present, making you a more engaging speaker.

2. Perfect your introduction

If there’s one part of your presentation that you should know like the back of your hand, it’s your introduction: it establishes the tone and agenda for everything that comes after.

If you nail that first minute, you’ll find that everything after flows naturally; you’ll hit your stride and feel your presentation anxiety dissolving rapidly.

3. Use deliberate breathing

Clichéd as it is, managing your breathing remains one of the best pieces of advice for when it comes to dealing with presentation anxiety. When the adrenaline kicks in, we often don’t realise how short our breath becomes.

This obviously poses a threat to your delivery, but taking some deep, well-paced breaths lets you fill your lungs and become more relaxed.

4. Take your time

It’s tempting to rush through your presentation when you’re anxious, racing to the end to get it over with. But this approach never works well, and often has the opposite effect of causing further stress. In addition, your audience won’t have time to process what you said and you’re unlikely to feel good about your delivery.

Make a point of pacing yourself and taking your time (within any limits). And don’t fear longer pauses: silence is a useful tool for allowing messaging to sink in, and even for establishing suspense.

5. If you make a mistake, just move on

If you make a mistake, don’t get hung up on it – just continue on to your next point as usual. Remember that you’re the only one who knows the script content, so your audience probably won’t even notice.

Communicating your key messages with passion is far more important than memorising and relaying every detail and statistic – in fact, trying to say everything is actively discouraged by professional presentation design services. Roll with the punches when presenting and don’t get bogged down by supplementary details.

6. Use body language to your advantage

Being conscious of your body language can have a huge impact on how you present. Harvard University researcher Amy Cuddy reveals in her body language TED talk that simply holding an ‘assertive’ body posture increases testosterone in the brain while reducing stress hormone cortisol.

This means an increase in confidence levels and reduction in anxiety for both men and women. Be aware of how you hold your body position and use it to feel more confident – you’ll even be perceived this way by others.

7. Remember your audience want you to succeed

Getting up to speak in front of a group of strangers is inherently daunting, but don’t feel like you have to go out of your way to seek approval or get the audience on your side.

They’re already there because they respect your knowledge and want to listen. Audiences appreciate you’re giving your personal/professional time to speak and want to see you perform well.

Keep this in mind and try to get to know your audience: arrive at the venue and get to know some attendees in order to strike up a rapport. This will help you humanise your content when the time comes to present.

Experience is key

Presentation anxiety is personal, and there’s no universal remedy; it might sound oversimplified, but the only real way to tackle it is through becoming more experienced.

But use the above tips to make the public speaking experience easier. As you ease into your stride, you’ll find that you’ll become more comfortable and ‘the real you’ will permeate through – empowering you to deliver more memorable presentations.

Image: Flickr_Kian McKellar

Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is the founder and creative director of Buffalo7, a UK-based PowerPoint presentation design agency. Recent clients include Sony PlayStation, The Guardian, Budweiser Budvar and UEFA Champions League.