Partners in Performance Blog

Performance Anxiety is Nasty

Do you get the shakes and quakes, stomach flips and painful mental images of crashing and burning during your business presentations? If so, you’re in good company.  Performance anxiety and stage fright are as common for actors, musicians, athletes and comedians as it is for business professionals.

In an UPFRONT Persuasion Through Presentation skills workshop this week, a senior executive confided that he never knew when stage fright would rear its ugly head. He even named this pesky intruder his “gremlin.”

Performance anxiety can truly be nasty. Yet there are many proven techniques to help you say good-bye to your gremlin and overcome it.  As a presentation skills coach, I know a few things about what works to calm your nerves and deliver a persuasive performance.

Here are six tips to conquer nervousness:

  1. Change Your Self Talk: For starters, pay attention to your self talk. Your inner dialogue has a powerful impact on your feeling state, which in turn directly impacts your behaviour. How you think so you shall be. Check out last week’s post for more on how to transform negative self talk into positive, resourceful self talk.
  2. Breathe Deeply: As simple as it may seem, a good deep breath sends a calming signal to your nervous system. Believe it or not, many people forget to breathe while speaking. This serves to trigger your nervous system on high alert.
  3. Rehearse: Whether you are a novice presenter or a seasoned pro, practice is key.  Too often I see people who think they should be able to wing it, because they’re truly experts in their field. What they don’t realize is that, under pressure, IQs can dip, memory fails, and you won’t come across as sharp and confident without practice.  Mental practice alone is not good enough. When I provide rehearsal coaching, I remind presenters that there are two kinds of presentations, the one you thought about and the one you gave.  It’s important to rehearse out loud and that the words leave your lips.  Otherwise, you will be saying “Wow. It didn’t quite come out the way I thought.”
  4. Visualize Success: Professional athletes visualize the perfect dive, they can see the spin of the ball from the free throw line, and imagine perfect form. Experienced performers have a “success bank account” filled with their past great performances and zone moments. They call up and re-imagine these energizing positive images when they need a boost of confidence before a performance.
  5. Involve Your Audience Early: I often hear presenters say “I am only nervous right at the beginning and then I tend to settle down.” Many presenters are uncomfortable when all eyes are on them and they are the centre of attention. When you plan your presentation, include a question very early on as a captivating opening. A question is not only an effective way to engage your audience right away, but it also a smart way to calm your jitters.  When you ask a question you naturally focus on the audience when you field responses and all of a sudden it feels more like a conversation which is the tone you want to establish.
  6. Make Eye Contact: They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. We connect with people with our eyes.  When we are nervous our eyes get skittish because we aren’t connecting. Instead we are in our heads thinking something like “I am so nervous, I just want to get this over with.” If you launch your presentations by making eye contact with one person and really connecting with that person this will help calm your nerves and get you off to a strong start. Word of caution: Don’t stay locked on to that person too long. Randomly move your eyes with others in the audience and hold the connection for at least 3 seconds.

These tips work to combat nerves. But if your presentation is poorly structured, if your slides are confusing or your delivery is filled with um’s, ah’s and other distracting behaviours, you will not be persuasive, no matter how calm you feel.

If you want to take your presentation effectiveness to the next level, call me for presentation skills training or rehearsal coaching.

Phone 905-877-5808 or contact

This entry was posted by TanjaParsley on October 31, 2012 in Handling Presentation Nerves, Presentation Skills, UPFRONT Persuasion™. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback.

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