"It's natural to have butterflies.  The secret is to get them to fly in formation."  -- Anchorman Walter Cronkite

Preparation reduces anxiety

  • Start preparing early.  Don’t let your anxiety cause you to procrastinate.
  • Choose a topic that you are interested in.
    • If it is interesting to you, it will likely be interesting to the audience as well.
  • First - develop the content, outline and organization (as you would a research paper See Start Your Research Here).
  • Second – focus on technique, style and delivery.
  • Devise a strong opening to set a confident tone.
    • Use a quote, a rhetorical question, or an anecdote, or state the purpose of the presentation.
  • Know your time limit and time yourself.
  • Leave some time for questions and interruptions.
  • Anticipate questions and prepare their answers.
  • Familiarize yourself with the room setup and the available technology.

Practice, practice, practice

  • Don’t write out or memorize the whole presentation.
    • Focus on learning the flow of ideas rather than exact wording.
    • Memorize the first sentence to boost your confidence.
  • Practice the entire presentation several times, including in front of a friend for feedback.
  • Keep going over the presentation in your daily life – in the shower, the car etc.

Get into “The Zone”

  • Gain experience speaking in public in low-risk, unevaluated situations, such as the Student Learning Commons’ Let's Talk Group  or a Toastmasters club.
  • Practice relaxation techniques and visualization as part of your preparation.  See Relaxation Techniques. For a visualization exercise, see Visualize Your Success!
  • The day of the presentation, try your favourite form of exercise to relax and “warm up.”

Right before the presentation

  • Have a bottle of water available (in case your mouth goes dry).
  • Remind yourself how well you understand the material and how carefully you have prepared.
  • Use the relaxation techniques that you have previously practiced.
  • Visualize a successful presentation.
  • In the minute before you go on, breath deeply 3 times, inhaling slowly and exhaling completely.

During the presentation

  • Focus on making the audience understand your message, rather than your nervousness.
    • Make eye contact with one person in the audience and stay with that person for an entire sentence or thought, then move on to someone else.
  • Consider having a friend in the audience for moral support.
  • Have a calming object on your person and touch it as needed (e.g., a shell or a school ring from high school).

What if …

I make a mistake?

Just correct it if you can, and move on.  Spoken language is naturally flawed.  A spontaneous presentation with a few mistakes will go over better than an error-free speech read off a paper.

Someone asks a question and I don’t know the answer?

It is OK to say “That is a good question.  I don’t know” to a question and offer to look up the answer.  Follow through by the next class.

Something goes wrong (e.g., my PowerPoint does not work or noise is coming from the next room)?

Prepare a backup plan (e.g.: transparencies or handouts) in advance and use it.  Remain calm, do your best under the circumstances and don’t continuously refer to the problem.

I blush, stutter, or look nervous?

Nervousness feels worse than it looks.  The audience probably won’t notice it.  Don’t mention it.  “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

I go blank?

Make a list of main points on PowerPoint or a flipchart to act as cues.  Knowing this is taken care of will alleviate this fear.

I say “um” or “ah” a lot?

It is better to minimize these space-fillers but they are not the end of the world.  Excessive focus on eliminating them will detract from your focus on the presentation.


Thanks to Stevan Anas for his ideas on this topic.

For more information, see Toastmaster's Tips and Techniques.