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May 31, 2005
Handling the Presentation Jitters

Having the "jitters" isn't necessarily a bad thing. According to The Total Communicator, an online publication of the Executive Communications Group, "the pre-presentation jitters remain the number one challenge listed by most presenters." But it goes on to say, "If you don't get a little nervous before giving a speech or presentation, you should really be worried." That's because the right amount of stress and extra adrenalin is actually beneficial to making a good presentation. It makes you a little sharper and gives you more energy that can flow out toward your audience. So if you're a veteran presenter who still gets nervous before a presentation, remember that (1) you're not alone, and (2) you're probably a better presenter because of it.

Don't forget "the power of preparation." One key to keeping the presentation jitters under control is to master the material you're going to present. Being prepared gives you confidence that you'll be able to handle anything that comes your way. If possible, rehearse the presentation ahead of time; if that's not possible, at least review the material several times in advance. Think about, and write down, the answers to questions that might come up. And don't neglect the physical part of good preparation: Make sure the room is arranged the way you want it, know how to use the AV equipment, and account for other essential items (projection screen, extension cord, etc.).

Psyche yourself out of the jitters. Dianna Booher, a communication trainer and author, offers several useful tips for overcoming excessive nervousness and anxiety before and during your presentation. They include:

Why It Matters...
  • Communication isn't just words--your message is also expressed in body language and the energy you project.
  • If you have confidence in yourself and your material, your audience is more likely to have confidence in you as a knowledgeable expert.
  • Safety talks shouldn't be dull and mechanical--channel nervous energy into ways that grab and hold attention.
  • "What's the worst?"--Remind yourself that the worst thing that could happen during your presentation probably isn't all that bad, and be prepared to deal with it if it does occur.
  • Focus on the "friendlies"--Some audience members will be supportive and responsive, while others may seem inattentive or even hostile. Try to build on the positive energy from the former group, and ignore the latter group.
  • Stay in motion--A good way to work off nervous energy is to move around during your presentation; this also helps keep your audience engaged and attentive.
  • Take some risks--If you don't want to be an average, boring presenter, then don't be one. Find ways to inject passion, humor, and audience participation into your session. Keep trying to innovate, and you'll eventually hit your stride.
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