There aren’t many jobs where you can avoid having to make a big presentation at some point. For some, making that big presentation is right up your alley. For others – in particular, those of us who would classify ourselves as introverts – making that big presentation might not fall into the category of your favorite things to do at work.
There are lots of tips and tricks out there to help you get over your “in the moment” presenting nerves. In many cases, dealing with the nerves simply comes down to how you prepare for your presentation and the diligence you’ve put into making sure you’ve included the right content presented in the right way.
One of the things I do in my job is help people prepare for these big presentations. Because of that, most assume that I love being up in front of large groups and have little fear of being able to command a room. What surprises many people I coach is that despite having presented to audience groups of all sizes and levels for years, as an introvert I still get really nervous before every single presentation. And it doesn’t matter if I’m presenting to the C-Suite or a group of new college graduates. I do my best to not let others see the subtle signs of nerves, but they are there nonetheless.
Here are the three things I do as an introvert to get myself prepared in a way that helps pro-actively mitigate my nerves:
1. Write out the most important presentation points by hand
It might seem like a really laborious thing to do, but there is some important research about how much more you retain and remember when you write notes by hand instead of on your computer. The same applies to when you create a presentation you may have to make.
So why is this important when you think about getting over nerves? The more confidence you have that you really know your stuff, the more you can calm your nerves (on that aspect at least). And writing it out by hand helps get it ingrained in your brain.
As an example, back in graduate school I vividly remember the first lecture I had to give. There were over 200 students. There was stadium seating. I needed a mic. It was pretty intimidating. I prepared like nobody’s business and had literally written out my entire 90-minute lecture. Whereas that might have been a little overkill, it turns out it wasn’t.
I arrived in the lecture hall on the day of my lecture and realized that I had forgotten my notes. I felt myself start to panic. There was no time to run back and get them. I had no choice but to try to make the best out of it.
To my surprise, I found that I remembered 80% of my lecture because I had so painstakingly written my notes by hand. Once I was a few minutes into the lecture and realized that I had prepared so well, I was able to command the room even without any notes. The content was simply one less thing I needed to get nervous about.
2. Practice where I can simulate the real presentation environment
For me, walking into a room and seeing how it is set up for the first time just a few minutes before my actual presentation makes me really nervous. It is just one more element to deal with right then and there in the moment while I’m simultaneously trying to pull myself out of my desire to just not have to do this presentation.
Because of that, I ask for the room layout in advance and even try to go visit the room in advance. Then I go find (or create) an environment that simulates that same layout. Similar to really getting the content solidified, knowing how things are set up and practicing in that same environment eliminates the logistical unknowns that contribute to nerves.
3. Contingency plan for the curve balls the audience might throw at me
A leader I worked with years ago used to tell me how amazed she was about how quickly I thought on my feet during presentations. If only she had known that I’m not quick on my feet at all. In fact, one of the things I need is time to process things when they come my way.
That process time (which many introverts I know need just like I do) is often one of the things that creates the biggest nerves for me during a presentation. Am I going to be able to think fast enough? That alone can make anyone nervous. So I combat that in advance by contingency planning for every possible curve ball I can think of and knowing my audience at a very deep level.
As a result, I am rarely surprised. Eliminating (or at least significantly reducing) that element of surprise often reduces the nerves I feel.
Doing these three things doesn’t completely eliminate my nerves. For many of us, nothing will achieve that except reaching the end of the presentation. At least these things help calm my nerves so I can get up and give a really good presentation in a way that no one knew just how nervous I really was.
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