Most people who experience stage fright are able to reduce it to a manageable level through preparation, practice, and persistence. But, if your nervousness feels extreme or even just unsettling, here are some popular techniques that may help you overcome it.
1. Deep Breathing
When you become nervous, your breathing becomes shallow and rushed, making you even more tense. Deep breathing releases tension and helps you relax. It’s worth doing when you’re preparing a presentation and for a few minutes before you begin the presentation. That way, you’ll begin in the calmest possible state.
Qigong (pronounced “chi kung”) is one of the best ways to feel more relaxed. It’s an ancient Chinese practice that has become a modern relaxation technique. Qigong movements may seem too gentle to have any effect at all, but many people find them highly effective. (I’m one such person.) Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are other practices that help people feel more relaxed.
3. Visual Imagery
Visual imagery is a way to calm yourself by using your imagination to conjure up pleasing images, particularly ones that use several of your senses. Try using visual imagery for several minutes before practicing your presentation. Then, spend a few minutes going back to that pleasant place shortly before you present.
4. Method Acting
Another way to reduce anxiety is to rely on your own emotions. This is what method acting is all about. Method actors draw from their own past experiences to portray the characters they’re playing. You can do something similar by recalling situations in which you felt confident, strong, and successful. Once you have a particular situation in mind, you can summon it when you’re presenting. Think of it as play acting, where you’re playing the part of someone who is confident.
5. Mental Rehearsal
Try mental rehearsal. This entails imagining yourself successfully carrying out a specific activity. By creating a picture in your mind of how you look, sound, and feel as a confident presenter, you will be creating a model that you can follow. Then, when it’s time to present, you will already have faced it several times in your mind, so you’re just following in your own footsteps. This, by the way, is something Olympians do before their competitions.
Some people like to use affirmations, which are positive statements that you tell yourself repeatedly to ward off negative beliefs about a particular situation, such as “I am a strong, confident presenter.” Affirmations are believed to reprogram your thinking by replacing negative beliefs with positive ones. By repeating affirmations to yourself with conviction, you may find that you’ve reduced your anxiety.
For each of these techniques, there are people who dispute its value. Some claim, in fact, that too much emphasis on the positive, such as with affirmations or visualizing, can actually damage performance. But, if getting a root canal seems more pleasurable than giving a presentation, then you’ve got nothing to lose by trying them. (And they might help get through the root canal, too!)
Naomi Karten is a writer and speaker who draws from her background in both psychology and IT. Naomi's recent books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions and Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. Naomi is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com.