Overcoming presentation nervousness: A three-part strategy

01 November 2023
By Neil Thompson

You’re a technical professional who has to give a presentation. Chewing glass while walking on a bed of nails seems more pleasurable. Nervousness, among other things, is something you’ll have to deal with before greeting a live audience. Clammy hands. Short breath. Uncontrollably shaking body. We’ve all been there. Do you get nervous before you give a technical presentation? If so, you’re not alone. Public speaking can be anxiety- inducing, even for seasoned professionals. However, there are practical ways to deal with it effectively. Here are three techniques that can help you conquer those nerves and deliver a stellar talk.

  1. Channel Nervous Energy through Physical Activity

One effective method to dissipate nervous energy is through physical activity. Before getting up in front of the audience, try doing light exercises like knee bends or even a few pushups (I often walk around before giving a talk). Engaging in physical movement can help reduce anxiety and get your blood flowing, making you feel more in control and less jittery when you step on stage. Remember, the goal is not to exhaust yourself but to release tension and nerves.

  1. Practice Deep Breathing for Calm and Focus

Deep breathing is a powerful tool to calm your nerves and center your focus. Take slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm, holding it for a couple of seconds, and then exhale completely. Repeat this several times before speaking to regulate your heart rate and induce a sense of relaxation. Deep breathing helps oxygenate your brain, allowing you to think clearly and maintain composure during your talk. Your brain better be in focus, especially for the questions that may come afterwards!

  1. Visualize Success to Boost Confidence

Visualization is a technique used by many successful people, including athletes and other entertainers. Take a moment to close your eyes and visualize your talk going smoothly. Picture yourself confidently delivering your content, engaging with the audience, and receiving positive responses. By envisioning success, you’ll build confidence and reduce self-doubt. Remember, confidence is key when it comes to public speaking. I swear by this technique, especially when combined with deep breathing.

When it comes to nervousness, it’s actually a bad sign if you’re not nervous. Nerves are a sign that you care about the outcome of the presentation. They aren’t to be eliminated, just managed. After all, it’s hard to talk after you’ve passed out due to shortness of breath!

Also, rethink the way you talk to yourself about public speaking. Instead of saying, “I’m nervous,” say “I’m excited.” You go from a negative to a positive frame of mind when you do this, which feeds in quite nicely with the visualization that you’re doing (you’re thinking about success, after all).

Incorporating physical activity, deep breathing, and visualization into your routine can significantly improve your on-stage experience. Embrace your nervousness as a natural response, but also recognize that you have the power to manage it effectively. Practice these techniques consistently, and you’ll notice a positive shift in your public speaking skills and overall confidence.

Neil Thompson is the founder of Teach the Geek and an engineer who works with other technical professionals to present their work more effectively, especially for nontechnical audiences. www.teachthegeek.com.


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