Partners in Performance Blog

Presentation Nerves: Avoid The Apology Mistake


In a recent UPFRONT Persuasion workshop, we were exploring how to overcome presentation nerves. One of the participants mentioned that her worst fear was going blank. It’s not fun when you’re staring out at your audience for what feels like an eternity and you have no idea where you are in your presentation or what you’re supposed to say next.

A fellow participant had been a competitive singer in her younger days and she commented on how points were lost when the singer had performance anxiety and lost their way during competition. If the singer forgot their words and stopped singing, or even worse, apologized for the loss of words, there was a significant impact on the score.

On the other hand, when the singer kept singing using words like ‘lalala’, the score was only minimally impacted.

It’s like that with presentations. It’s less about making a mistake; it’s how you handle and recover from your foibles.  A common mistake that presenters make, especially those who suffer from presentation nerves, is to apologize if they lose their way.

To make matters worse, they may say something to draw further attention to their jittery state by saying “I’m sorry – I am so nervous.” Or, “I’m so nervous, I didn’t have much time to prepare and I hate delivering presentations.”

Your job as a presenter is to establish your credibility not only with what you have to say but how you communicate your message. Apologies instantly undermine your credibility.  And even worse, they set a very uncomfortable tone for your audience.

There is nothing worse than witnessing a nervous presenter get flustered and apologize. It makes the audience suffer and feel your pain. Your audience wants the best for you.  They will accept mistakes when handled effectively and confidently. Going blank is no biggie. It happens to all of us. It’s the decision we make about it that impacts how we deal with it.

What is the Best Way to PREVENT a Nervous Blank Out?

Clearly the best strategy is to avoid the occurrence from happening in the first place. Preparing and planning your presentation, including rehearsal practice goes a very long way in ensuring your presentations are pulled off with confidence. You can learn how to effectively prepare and structure presentations using a Presentation Planner in our UPFRONT Persuasion workshops or through private coaching sessions.

Check out more great tips in my blog posts Performance Anxiety is Nasty and Presentation Nerves: Whisper Sweet Nothings to Yourself.

What is the Best Way to RECOVER from a Nervous Blank-Out?

Even if we have done a great job preparing, we can still lose our way or blank out during the presentation. Here are four tips to recover seamlessly:

  1. Change Your Thinking and Create a Mantra: Make a decision that going blank is simply a momentary memory gap. It’s no big deal. You can and will get back on track in a few seconds. People will hardly notice. And then reinforce your decision by managing your self talk with words such as “If I lose my way, it’s ok. I know how to recover quickly.” It is most important to prepare a mantra that you can have ready to access when you need it. In the moment of a nervous panic attack, you will not have the facility to craft a powerful positive mantra. Make one up ahead of time and practice saying it in your mind and out loud.
  2. Make Light of It: When you change your thinking about going blank from “this is my worst fear” to “it happens to everyone from time to time, no biggie”, you can engage your audience with your memory lapse. Say something like “hmmm, where was I?”  I use this strategy and it works like a charm. The audience knows where you were! Why not ask them rather than standing up there looking like a deer in the headlights?
  3. Zip It! Instead of apologizing and shining a bright painful light on your memory lapse, simply be quiet and pause, pause, pause. Refer to notes or a slide to help you reconnect with your point. Take as much time as you need. What feels like an eternity to you seems much shorter to your audience. They will patiently wait while you collect your thoughts.
  4. Breathe: Believe it or not, people forget to breathe when they are struck by a nervous episode or momentary blank out. The amygdala or primitive brain takes over and our ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in.  The good news is we can calm ourselves and get back into our bodies with a few deep breaths.  Then we can quickly override our primitive brain with our thinking brain or neo cortex by repeating our Mantra to ourselves a couple of times.

Going blank means you’ve let your anxiety become your focus. These techniques will quickly get you focused back on your audience, your presentation and the message you want to communicate. Done. You’re back on track and no one will remember. Just like with competitive singers, what your audience will notice is how well you recovered and that will only add to your credibility!

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 Tanja Parsley http://www.partnersinperformance.ca/contact-us/

I would love to hear from you. What works to calm your nerves? 


This entry was posted by TanjaParsley on November 5, 2012 in Handling Presentation Nerves, Presentation Skills, Success Mindset, 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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