Anxious about presentations? Read on for the calming words of Pitch School founder and communication skills coach, Peter Rush.

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07/08/20
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Nerves are natural. Few completely conquer them but we can all learn to dance with them. Fear always begins in your mind. Few of us escape imposter syndrome, feeling we aren’t good enough for the task ahead sometimes. 

  • Make a mood board.
  • Reduce anxiety.
  • Control your fears.

The chemicals and hormones that create anxiety come from your body but only after their release is triggered by your mind. Therefore any strategy to manage anxiety must tackle your mind and your body. 

Anxious before the presentation? 

Often what’s keeping us awake at night contains the truth of what we have to face and the actions we need to take now to reduce that anxiety. 

Step one in my creative process is a mood board. The act of putting ideas and fears or question marks about the presentation on paper reduces them by almost 90%. Listen to the narrative in your mind and get your ideas out of your head and onto paper. 

Why is this so important? You trigger the release of cortisol and noradrenaline when you think about a presentation fearfully. Once this is your system it magnifies your fears where they can grow, in your mind! I use what’s worrying me as tool to inquire further into what I need to read up on or discuss with others. My fears feed my creativity. You can do this too. Once you have a sketch of your presentation on one piece of A3 landscape this right sizes the challenge ahead. Now you can see what you face and while not everything you face can always be overcome, nothing can be overcome until its faced. (Thank you James Baldwin).

Share you concerns with a colleague over coffee or lunch. Show them your mood board. Get a second opinion. Then set a fixed date for your walk through where you try out your first draft of the presentation. That will reduce nerves too. Work on it and then quickly do your first more formal run-through. 

The day before the presentation try and get outside and walk in a park or even better a forest. Running, swimming indeed any form of physical activity that gets you out of breath and lasts 20 minutes will help you to reduce anxiety

Can’t do any of those? Get your laptop out and watch a nature documentary or look at pictures of forests and green, verdant landscapes for a while. All of those will calm you. Avoid alcohol the night before and eat lightly too avoiding spicy foods and red meat. 

Still feeling nervous on the day of the presentation? 

Again, totally normal. Now it’s usually more in your body but this will affect your mind if you allow it. Remind yourself you have all your mental preparation done. Because you have used a process of memorising your key messages and have some prepared examples, case studies and experiential stories to share with us you know you will be able to share those once you have got over your initial release of adrenaline which impacts for a minute or tow at most. Your INTRO slides are now worth their weight in gold because you have your starting guide to get you through. 

Probably your fear is now residing in your gut and lungs. 

So standing up do a few simple deep breathes slowly in and out counting to six on the way in, hold it for six, release over six. Still nervous? Sit with your backside fairly back in a chair, upright, release your belt so your tummy is free and place you hands on it and breath deeply into the bottom of your lungs. Your hands on your tummy will move outwards if you are. Hold that breath for as long as you can. Release slowly. Repeat up to three times. Now you have enriched your oxygen supply so you can dissipate the flight or fight chemical release automatically triggered when we are scared about anything, real or imagined. 

Have water near you. Sip some. A dry throat is also a normal fear reaction. Loosen you voice by saying ‘HOW NOW BROWN COW’ loudly, stretching your jaws fully open and focusing on the consonants as much as the vowels. Loosen you limbs in turn moving your head gently in a circle and then each arm and leg too. 

Who has not sat tense before his own heart’s curtain?’

Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet and Novelist.

Controlling your fears in 5 steps – 

  1. Admit your fear; understand its sources, tap into them and use them.
  2. Accept that fear is a normal response for public speakers. 
  3. Realise fear does not have to show.
  4. See the audience as an ally, focus on their needs. 
  5. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse with positive and critical feedback.

Finally do a pre-flight check to make sure your slides work and that your notes are in order and that any handouts are there too. Check the room for the comfort of your audience. Smile, say good morning or afternoon warmly welcoming them, thanking them for their gift of their time and begin with your INTRO. Remember your audience is with you and for you, grateful its you presenting today and not them. Hold that thought and WOW them.

Founder of The Pitch School, Peter Rush has given a talk at Use.Space and recently presented another of our Facebook Live Sessions. Communications specialist, commercial writer and pitch doctor, Peter has worked in or helped win work for his clients with organisations that include Apple, BBC, BT, Deloitte, Facebook, Google, NHS Trusts, Sky, Tesco and Twitter.

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