Dealing with Presentation Nervousness

July 15, 2013 10:02 by Dana Peters

Nervousness, even for experience presenters, is often part of the territory. It affects people in different ways for different reasons. One of our learning partners, Turpin Communication, specializes in presentation and facilitation skills training. Their VP, Greg Owen-Boger, and I have had several in-depth conversations about dealing with presentation nerves and have contributed the following thoughts in several LinkedIn discussions over the past few years. I thought you might find this information helpful as well.

Here is what Greg has to say:

Dealing with nervousness is a tricky and highly-nuanced, personal thing. There is no pill or quick fix. However, it is manageable. What I’ve discovered is that for most people, it’s triggered by a combination of two things:

  1. Setting the bar too high or in the wrong place
  2. Not fully understanding the job at hand

I’ll break that down.

About the bar:

In our workshops, presenters always say they want to be themselves and feel comfortable, just as in ordinary conversations. They also say things like “I want to present like my boss/politician/co-worker/celebrity because she’s so dynamic.” That’s putting the bar in the wrong place. You can’t be yourself AND be like someone else at the same time.

Nervous presenters also often suffer from the desire to be perfect. That’s what I mean by setting the bar too high. No one can be perfect, and in trying they usually get themselves tied up into knots attempting to recite the script they created or relying too heavily on their notes. When they mess up -- and they do mess up -- they have a difficult time recovering, and the whole thing turns into a swirling cycle of heightened self-consciousness and lowered self-awareness.

No wonder they’re nervous. Who can be confident when their head is a swirling mess?

So what’s the fix?

It will be different for each person, but in our workshops we figure out what skills and techniques will work for each person. For most, it’s a combination of (1) pausing to think and breathe to get the brain/thoughts under control, and (2) deliberate eye contact to connect with the individuals on a personal level, just as we do in ordinary low-stakes conversations. This is what we mean when we say presenters need to “Find their focus. Be themselves. Only better.” The “only better” part means being flexible enough to adjust to the heightened environment the presenter is in.

About the job at hand:

The other nervousness trigger, not understanding the job at hand, is similar to the need to be perfect. No one attends a business presentation thinking, “gee I hope the presenter is dynamic/perfect/entertaining and really wows me.” They go into the presentation hoping to get the information they need to do their jobs. We’ve found it helpful to redefine the presentation as a conversation.

We think of them as Orderly Conversations. Orderly because they need to be carefully thought through and organized, but conversations because they must be delivered in a responsive conversational way. When presenters redefine their role in this way, we see them shift from saying something to saying something to somebody. This outward shift of their focus allows them to respond to their listeners’ input, go where they lead and manage the give and take of the conversation. Ultimately they are able to conduct the business they are there to do.

That’s it. No other goal is more important than that.

Once presenters understand these concepts and are able to put them into action, their effectiveness will improve, their confidence will increase and their nervousness will recede.


Good stuff, don’t you think?

This reminds me, Dale Ludwig and Greg (from Turpin) have a book coming out next year: “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined”. I got to read the manuscript last week and this book is definitely one to add to your 2014 reading list. I will keep you posted on the release here, through my social media channels, and on

Anyway, back to managing presentation nervousness. What are your thoughts?

Tags: , , ,

Presentation Skills | The Orderly Conversation | Turpin Communication

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview