10 Pro Tricks to Ease Your Presenting Nerves

September 29, 2014

Your business, sanity, and peace of mind may be riding on the success of your next presentation. From avoiding a nervous stomach to properly practicing, these industry tricks can help you succeed before your big day.

1. Power Stance - Take a cue from social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s famous TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” and build your confidence by adopting a power stance for two minutes before you deliver your presentation. For instance, standing with your legs apart and your hands on your hips à la Wonder Woman can subconsciously give you a boost of courage.

2. Chunk Your Message - Having a hard time remembering your main points before your presentation? Try mentally chunking your message into a few large takeaways rather than a bunch of smaller, individual points. This technique aids your short-term memory by assigning a pattern to seemingly random tidbits of information.

3. Breathing Techniques - Deep breathing can help calm even the most anxious presenter. There are a lot of different techniques to try, but I recommend lying on the floor and using a Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique. After you lie down, mindfully breathe in through the nose and down through the stomach. Release this breath up into your chest, past the back of the throat, and out through the mouth. Repeat this technique for three deep inhales and exhales. Another technique to try is the 4x4 breathing pattern. It’s a simple formula: Breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, and then breathe out for four seconds until you feel relaxed.

4. Exercise - You are probably already familiar with the benefits of exercise, but did you know it can reduce anxiety and even stage fright? Studies suggest that the positive feelings or “high” from exercise can last up to 12 hours after the workout. Take some time early in your day to go for a run, swim, or get your heart rate going with a ton of jumping jacks. It might give you the boost you need to deliver a “Rocky” style presentation.

5. Vocal Warm Ups - Your voice can exude confidence, fear, confusion, and an array of other positive and negative emotions. Reign in any unwanted vocal tones through a quick warm up before your presentation. This can include reading a piece aloud in different tones for a few minutes, stretching jaw muscles, or attempting some vocal scales.

6. The Great Gargle - If your throat is suffering or you feel like coughing before a presentation, a quick gargle might be your savior. Simply combine 1/4ths teaspoon of baking soda with 1 cup of warm water, and gargle vigorously in the back of your throat for some fast relief.

7. The Power of Affirmations - From John Lennon to Barbra Streisand, even the most powerful go-getters can be struck with stage fright. One trick is to lie to yourself and others by painting on a smile, giving yourself a pep talk, and telling your friends that you aren’t nervous in the least. Revealing anxiousness often has a snowball effect, so exude some positivity instead.

8. Bad Breath Busters - If you’re nervous about your breath in the confines of a small conference room, there are a few tricks that can help. Try chewing cinnamon gum that isn’t sweetened with sugar; it’s proven to be the best kind of gum for reducing bacteria. Fruits that are rich in vitamin C, particularly bananas, can also help suppress bad breath caused by ketones, which are released when you haven’t eaten in a while. And finally, keeping your mouth moisturized with plenty of water will increase saliva production in the mouth, which acts as an antiseptic for your breath.

9. The BRAT Diet - Do you suffer from a nervous stomach? Nothing works better than eating one of the foods within BRAT before your big presentation: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. This works well because all of the ingredients are composed of soluble fibers, which slow the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract. These “good” fibers will prevent your digestive tract from overworking when nervous, preventing any unwanted problems.

10. Prioritize Pacing - During natural conversation, we speak at a rate of about 120 words per minute. This speed tends to increase when we are nervous, and can make us sound like an auctioneer racing through our main points. Before your presentation, work on your pacing by rehearsing your content in slow motion, taking time to pause between each main point. Also try to avoid reading off lists or memorizing large portions of text: The goal is to sound conversational, not robotic.

Don’t botch your next business pitch because of a scratchy throat or an anxious stomach; learn to become mindful of the “little things” before your next presentation.

Author Bio

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University. Follow the conversation and connect with Scott on LinkedIn or Twitter.