How to Calm Your Nerves Before Giving a Presentation

Have to present ideas to a group at work? Take anxiety out of the equation with these three mindful tips.

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Q: My boss has chosen me to make an important presentation to the executives in our company. I’m thrilled. But I don’t want to choke. Any advice on how to handle a case of nerves right before the big moment?

Reconnecting with our confidence at such stressful times may appear daunting. But if we prepare properly, know our topic well, and have a passion for our work, we may find it relaxing just by remaining open to our circumstances. While there are no “tricks,” here are three important tips to remember when speaking in front of an audience.

  1. Relax: Take several deep, long, relaxed breaths before you begin. Too often, we unconsciously breathe shallowly when feeling anxious.

  2. Slow Down: When we feel anxious, we tend to rush in hopes of relieving the distress. Such “speed” only “camouflages” the panic, often authoring the very clumsiness we are hoping to avoid. By slowing down with a few moments of mindfulness, we can reconnect with a psychological space that is quiet, simple, and open. Taking occasional sips of water during the presentation can go a long way to extending such “space” into your presence and the room.

  3. Be Grateful: Consider that several people are about to give you their attention and gratefully appreciate such an offering. You may actually begin your presentation by thanking people for their attention which can create a gracious tone that may surprisingly ease the tension.

Making friends with our anxiousness while making an important presentation to decision makers may appear intimidating but if we are kind to ourselves—breathing, slowing down, and being grateful—we may discover a confidence that is as familiar as coming home.

Michael Carroll is the author of Fearless at Work.

Q: I’m a leader whose days are eaten up by operational concerns. How can I force myself to delegate more and make time to assess what’s most important?

Being clear about what’s really important, regularly assessing your priorities, delegating— these are key challenges for any leader. Unfortunately, often our response to being overwhelmed is to push ourselves even harder!

Instead of feeling eaten up by the crisis of the moment, take a fresh look by giving yourself a little respite instead of moving forward. Enjoy lunch, for example, rather than wolfing it down in a meeting. Take a moment to scan your body and notice your feelings. From those little pauses, your ability to be innovative and be resourceful will emerge.

When you allow breathing space, you’ll be able to see the wisdom of trusting someone else’s expertise.

Under pressure, leaders tend to take control, make all the decisions, and personally see the project to completion. At just the time when you need to expand your thinking and draw on the resources of others, your vision has narrowed—and so has your ability to see options and make sounder decisions.

When you allow some breathing space, you’ll be able to see the wisdom of trusting someone else’s expertise. You’ll see valuable contributions that others can make. You’ll see that you have choices and can start anew. You’ll see that you can reconnect with your own values and priorities, rather than simply responding to the crisis at hand. You’ll take better care of yourself.

Mariann Johnson is an instructor with  the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

This article also appeared in the June 2014 issue of Mindful magazine.

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