Whether you’re speaking in front of an audience for your first time or your 50th, chances are you are experiencing some level of apprehension.
Even professional speakers have to manage their nerves.
Fear of public speaking is a normal response that’s hard-wired into the human brain, but that doesn’t mean you should allow sweaty palms, a shaky voice and fluttering pulse to subvert your presentation goals.
Read on to learn about A.R.M. (acknowledge, reframe, manage), my three-step process for dealing with pre-show jitters.
Whatever your level of public speaking experience, following these steps will help you minimize nerves and project confidence.
Step 1: Acknowledge your response.
It can be helpful to understand the source of your anxiety: human biology.
When our ancestors faced a risk, it was often life-threatening and required a shot of adrenaline to survive. Unfortunately, that “fight or flight” response still manifests itself today in risky (but not deadly) situations, such as giving a speech. Adrenaline creates the physical symptoms that exaggerate everything you are experiencing.
As with anything else, presenting with confidence has a learning curve. As your skills improve, presenting will seem less risky and you will learn to use that adrenaline rush to your advantage.
Also, even when you feel like a mess, your audience doesn’t necessarily notice. Simply recognizing what’s happening will help you gain perspective.
Step 2: Reframe the situation.
Before a presentation, do you find yourself watching an internal movie in which you do everything wrong? That only escalates your anxiety.
Instead, change the channel in your brain by developing tactics to distract you and burn off your excess energy. Many confident professional speakers have a pre-game ritual they perform before every presentation:
- A mentor of mine, Dr. Robert Haakenson (who was a dean at Temple University), used to run laps around his car.
- Matt Abrahams of Stanford University recites tongue twisters.
- Helen Moses of Command Communications does vocal exercises to prep her voice.
- Amy Cuddy, a Harvard University social scientist, suggests performing a power pose to prepare for high-anxiety situations.
My pre-speaking ritual includes arriving early to set up the room, taking time for a short prayer, sipping hot water with lemon and burning off nervous angst by meeting and greeting listeners as they arrive. This familiar routine helps direct my focus and energy in a positive, productive way.
Step 3: Manage in the moment.
When you stand in front of an audience, your delivery should communicate that you can handle any situation that arises. If you’re an experienced speaker, you know things can—and will—go wrong. However, as the saying goes, the show must go on.
So, how do you keep from panicking?
One effective way to calm your nerves is to picture what you’ll do if problems arise. For example:
- Your mind goes blank: There’s no need to over-apologize. Pause to collect your thoughts, and then proceed.
- You trip walking on stage: If Jennifer Lawrence survived this in a ball gown at the Academy Awards, you can get through it without losing your cool, too. Pick yourself up, smile at the audience, and nonverbally reassure them that you’re fine.
- Your slides stop advancing: You should always be prepared to present without A/V, because you can’t control when technical difficulties might arise. When one of my clients found herself in that situation, she simply ignored the technical glitch and continued with her talk. (Smart move.) In some cases, you can politely ask for help while continuing your presentation, possibly by sharing an example or telling a story.
What if something happens that you didn’t consider? Avoid drawing attention to what went wrong. Simply keep smiling, and forge ahead.
Your anxiety will dissipate once you understand the source of your fear, practice calming rituals and have a plan to handle whatever happens. You will always feel some nervousness before a presentation—that’s the nature of the beast—but don’t let it undermine your success.
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBrief.