5 Strategies for Managing Presentation Anxiety

Man breathing in a paper bag because of presentation fear

Having spent most of the past year delivering programs remotely, I was thrilled when asked to do an in-person micro session at a human resources conference that I was attending in Newport, Rhode Island. My joy quickly turned to panic when I tried to get my mind to narrow in on what wisdom I could possibly impart in only 20 minutes. Not to mention, I hadn’t presented in front of an audience since early 2019. What if I failed miserably? What if I didn’t have anything valuable to say? What if some of my old quirky habits had come back after such a long hiatus? Then, to add another layer to my rising panic, I found out that over 90 people had signed up for my session. Wait, what?!?! Cue the racing heart, pounding head, sweaty palms, and negative self-talk. Fortunately, I have a bag of tricks that I haul out when I find my anxiety level starting to rise.


1. Just breathe. 

My favorite breathing technique is the 4-7-8 breathing. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and audibly exhale for a count of 8. Repeat three or four times. Not only does the breathing calm the racing heart, but the counting doesn’t allow your mind to run wild with “what if” thinking.


2. Replace your stinking thinking. 

Whether you are nervous or excited, your body reacts similarly – racing heart, shallow breathing, shaky hands. The key is to replace the “I’m so nervous” language with “I’m so excited.” Keep repeating this message, and soon you will feel energized and eager to take the stage instead of looking around for a place to hide.


3. Visualize your awesomeness. 

When I am in the middle of my mental analysis of all that could go wrong, I find that my mind is painting colorful pictures of the face plant I take walking up to the podium. Or, the collective gasp of horror when I use the completely wrong term to describe something. Or, I imagine the look of pity on the faces in the audience when I suddenly forget what I was going to say and stand there like a deer in the headlights sputtering nonsense. The second I notice myself with this negative paintbrush in my hands, I recreate the scene and instead visualize in front of the room with a big smile and a warm welcome for the audience. I imagine them nodding and smiling throughout my talk, and I hear their applause at the end of my presentation. The clearer I visualize my awesomeness, the quicker it becomes a reality.


4. Let it go. 

Chances are, you have a lot of pent-up energy coursing through your muscles when your anxiety levels start to rise. Release the energy by going for a brisk walk to clear your mind and expend some of that energy. If you don’t have time for a walk, do some quick isometric exercises to get rid of the shakiness. Starting with your toes and feet, tighten your muscles, hold, and then release. Continue this exercise working up through your body: calves, thighs, buttock, stomach, chest, shoulders, arms, face, and finish by making fists to release the excess energy in your hands. 


5. Develop your mantra.

Listen to whatever negative self-talk you are repeating and replace it with an empowering phrase or sentence. My favorite is “I got this” as is evidenced by my vanity license plate. I use this technique in all areas of my life, but especially when I have a high-stakes presentation and my nerves are starting to gain a foothold in my psyche. The more I repeat it, the more I believe it.

license plate

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