Presentation nerves can have a big impact on how you perform on the day. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a proven treatment method that gives people the opportunity to recognise the unhelpful thoughts they have and how they are choosing to respond to them. This self-help process has been used by many successful entrepreneurs. By becoming aware of their negative thoughts, people can then adapt and change the dysfunctional behaviours that then follow.
Your performance is influenced by what you think you can and can’t do. While we can’t stop our thoughts, we can change how we choose to then respond to them.
Keep a thought log to monitor your nerves
In the run-up to and after presentations, take time in the evening to write down moments when you felt anxious during the day and reflect on what you thought, how you felt and how you went on to behave. Carrying out the following self-help tasks could help you.
- Write down what caused you to become anxious. Did you stumble over your words in a practice run? Was it when you were checking over your slide deck?
- What did you think at the time? Were you convinced that you wouldn’t do a good job? Where you afraid that your audience wouldn’t be receptive or that they’d judge you negatively?
- Write down what will happen if you continue to think this way. Will your anxiousness lead you to behave nervously in future presentations? Can it cause you to constantly doubt yourself? Will it shift your focus from your goal?
- Challenge the initial thoughts you had at the time. You know you’ve put in the hard work. You’re happy with your message and are well prepared.
- Look at a healthier way of thinking about the situation. You may want to think: “This is an exciting opportunity and I’m going to try my hardest to deliver my message in the best way I can”.
- Write down an affirmation. This could be: “I am skilled, experienced and deserve this opportunity”.
- Put an action plan in place. Make a conscious effort not to dwell on your negative thoughts the next time they arise. When you feel them building up, focus on your experience, skills and past achievements instead.
Once you are well-versed in this technique, you will be able to pause and redirect yourself away from negative thoughts the moment they arise. In this way, they won’t distract you from your main focus.
Visualise and imagine your success
In the lead-up to a presentation, rehearse the goal you want to achieve in your head. This will act as a non-verbal instruction, training your body to act confidently in moments when you may have otherwise been nervous.
- Find a private, calm space and make yourself comfortable.
- Take a few slow, and deep breaths to calm yourself.
- Close your eyes.
- Set the scene. Feel like you are actually there. What venue are you presenting in? What will you be wearing? Whom will you be speaking in front of?
- Worried about a particular section of the presentation? Imagine yourself saying it perfectly and confidently.
- Concerned about appearing nervous in front of people? Think of yourself standing poised, relaxed and focused.
- If stumbling over your words is something that has been playing on your mind, imagine yourself performing exactly the way you want to in a scenario you’d normally find daunting.
- Remain in the moment for 5 to 10 minutes or until you feel relaxed.
- Assure yourself that you can return to this place whenever you want or need to calm down.
Positive self-talk throughout the process
Anxiety can cause you to focus on all the mistakes you could make and believe that the worst possible scenario will happen. Swapping this for positive self-help talks can prevent these thoughts from intensifying and impacting you before, during and after your presentation.
- Before the presentation. Before entering a high-pressure situation, recite statements like: “It’s going to be tough but worth it” or “I’m going to do as well as I possibly can”.
- During the presentation. Stay positive throughout the experience. Think affirmative statements like: “Concentrate on what is going on, not on how you feel”, “These are just nerves, I know they will pass” or “I know I’ll be fine”
- After the presentation. Remember to give yourself praise afterwards such as: “I’m really pleased with myself” or “I really got my message across well”
Even when things don’t go quite to plan, you should take the time to review. Any small step that you make is progress.
Know when to get help for anxiety
Sometimes, self-help techniques alone are not enough. If you ever feel like your anxiety is becoming more persistent and is having a detrimental impact on your day-to-day life, it is important to visit medical professionals. They will be able to determine whether you need any further treatment and guide you accordingly.