I have a love-hate relationship with presentations.
As a kid I would take any opportunity to get up on stage or infront of a class and teach them something. How to draw a dog, how to name colours in French, how a battery worked. Anything. I just wanted to show them I could and that they could too. I loved it and it showed.
When I got to highschool that went south pretty quickly. I developed terrible stage fright that left me shaking so hard you could hear my notes vibrate while I stood there with my mouth open like a stunned fish. By the time I reached university just the word ‘presentation’ would send me running for cover.
But presenting turned out to be a big part of my degree and I was determined not to let it pull down my grades.
It took a long time, but either through sheer will or stubborness, call it what you will, I slowly regained my confidence in my own voice. Eventually I was giving presentations on animal sex like it was no big deal (animal behaviour was a weird course guys).
I’m still not entirely comfortable with presenting to a crowd but I can do it now. I’m not really sure what changed either but what I can do is tell you what helps. If you hate presenting but have to do it for whatever reason, I hope you find something useful here.
Yes, I know, you’ve probably heard it before and I can almost hear you rolling your eyes. This is probably the most important point though. As with anything, don’t leave it till the last minute or you run the risk of panicking and looking just as unprepared as you feel. Get your material ready ahead of time and then practice! You’ll look and feel more confident and presentations are all about confidence. The better prepared you are, the more time youll feel you have to collect yourself.
Try to be aware of when you need to stop and take a breath. It wont look like you’re scared, it will look like you’re in control. Finish your sentence, pause, take a breath and look around the room. Then carry on. Pausing like this will let whatever you’ve just said sink in with your audience and give you a break. You’ll calm down and add impact to what you are saying at the same time. Win-win!
This also works with stress stuttering. If you’re stuck on a word, stop, breath and try again. Still can’t get it out? Try a different word or move on. No one will judge you for it and youll avoid losing your train of thought.
Use a fidget toy.
Fidget toys have become rather popular recently but they do serve a real purpose. Don’t go for something like a fidget spinner, theyre just distracting and annoying for your audience. Something small and quiet like a fidget cube or a worry stone (a small, smooth pebble with an indent for your thumb) is a better choice. You can conceal it in your hand or behind your back and it will help to ground you.
We all have that friend who couldn’t talk if they sat on their hands. When you talk to someone you feel comfortable with you don’t stand still. The same is true when you talk about something you enjoy. You gesticulate and move with your words. Standing rigid or hunching your shoulders will reinforce your feelings of anxiety. Remember to move. Face your audience but turn to your slides and point. Open your palms to the audience. Walk around a little if you want. You’ll loosen up and use some of your nervous energy and youll look passionate about your subject.
Ask for help.
If you are really struggling you can ask for help. Most universities will offer support services and might be able to help you find an alternative to presenting or a way to build your confidence. You could try starting small, like I did, and present to just a lecturer or two and build it up from there. Or maybe you just need to talk to someone to work out what makes you nervous and what the best approach is for you.