Presentation Nerves - here's how I learnt to overcome them!

By Simone Watson 14th July 2017 Presentation tips

“presentation-nerves-stressed-in-office”Let’s face it, presentations can be daunting. From the moment we’ve been asked to deliver a presentation, we often find ourselves with that sinking feeling in the pits of the stomach. Our hands start to sweat and our hearts begin to beat faster than that time you thought you were going to miss the flight for the much awaited holiday you'd been saving a year for. 

Even when we are experts in our field, nothing stops the nervous knots from within rising up and escaping out of our mouths as a pitiful squeak, often in the first few words of our presentation.

I remember my first interview with Maynard Leigh. I was asked to prepare a 5 min presentation on a product or service I would like to sell. 

The brief was to: 

The original email asked for the candidate to bring as much of themselves as possible during this section. At the very moment I finished reading the final full stop in that email, the nerves kicked in and with them came the sweaty palms, hot flushes, racing heartbeat, limiting beliefs and self-doubts. Presentation doom is the only words I can find to fit how I felt at that moment. 

I knew what product or service I wanted to present. I had previously been employed to manage and deliver a development programme to NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training) young people in Lewisham aged 16 – 24. The year long programme was about developing life skills and professional skills using Drama as an engagement tool. For those of you who know me, it’s an area I still hold very close to my heart, so there was no lack of passion in presenting on this subject. My background is in theatre and the performing arts, so I had also been delivering workshops for the past 10 years, and performing as an actress to audiences large and small for much longer, so I was used to presenting to people on a regular basis, but still, the nerves didn’t get any easier. 

My Presentation: The Day of Reckoning

I took a couple of days to draft and redraft my presentation. I was clear on the structure. I knew that I wanted Maynard Leigh to buy into my idea to offer support and development opportunities to young people from underprivileged backgrounds. I had the passion, I was experienced and I was going to be on fire! …So why did my presentation turn into an incoherent mess somewhere around paragraph two? 

At some point after saying the words ‘developing life skills through the arts’…I remember shrinking slowly into the bright purple carpet in training studio 1, that had suddenly turned into a hot sticky quicksand. My brain began to race even faster than my heart and I remember a whirlwind of thoughts trying to escape my brain like a packed commuter train on a hot summer evening pulling into an air conditioned station. “What are you saying?”, “Did that even make sense?”  “Make eye contact”, “Not too much, you’ll look weird”, “They’ve raised their eyebrows, they must think you're a fool”. Quizzical looks, furrowed brows, shallow breath, sweaty palms, tingly knees, sweat drop forming left side of face…SOMEONE MAKE IT STOP!! I had lost it. I mean completely lost it, my train of thought, my confidence and a way to redeem myself. What had gone wrong? But more importantly, how do I turn this around? 

I remember pulling myself out of the purple quicksand just before Stuart and Adi had to call an ambulance and inform my next of kin of my sudden departure from this earth to say, “Sorry, would you mind if I just stopped for a moment. I’ve completely lost my train of thought". I realised that my mind had gone blank and I didn’t know what to say next.Instead of pausing and gathering my thoughts, I’d started speaking faster than Usain Bolt could run towards a plate of home cooked food, without knowing what the hell I was saying or why. 

  1. I took a breath. A deep breath, which somehow restarted my heart and settled the abhorrent churning in my stomach.
  2. I stood still. It felt like an eternity. It was probably only a few seconds, but I needed the space. I looked at my notes and realised they were too much, to colourful, too many bullet points, too many arrows, darting this way and that. So I put them down again and tried to focus in on the people in front of me to see if they were still with me. I took another deep breath. 

Speak from the heart

A voice interrupted my thoughts, It was my soon to be boss Stuart McKenzie asking if I was alright. I said “Yes, I’ve gone off on a tangent and have no idea where to go with it…what was the last thing you heard me say because I can’t remember where I got to? ” At this point, I thought honesty has surely got to be the key to get me out of this mess I’d created for myself. 

He chuckled. I chuckled. It lightened the mood. “You’re clearly passionate about this subject, so why don’t you start again and just speak from the heart”. “Ok, round two.” I took another deep breath, and the rest was history. I started work here that very next week. 

Like me, a lot of us start our presentations and somehow end up having a mini cardiac arrest because our nerves get the better of us. It really is important to stop and breathe and connect to the people in the room that you’re trying to influence. I’ve done this successfully on stage on so many occasions, but in a business setting somehow it feels different and it really isn’t. 

So the next time I step into a presentation, I’m going to make it a performance, I will stop and breathe and I’m not just going to know what I’m saying, but more importantly, why I’m saying it, why is it important to me? and speak from the heart, because that’s what is most engaging and the most impactful. 

If you would like to master the techniques I learned to nail my job interview.

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