nerves be gone!
Part 2 of our in-depth guide to overcoming nerves and delivering a power-packed performance, every time
table of contents
1. Overcoming nerves during your performance — Introduction
In Part 1 of this ultimate guide to overcoming nerves when it comes to speaking in public, we went through all the things you can do in advance of your engagement.
If you haven’t gone there yet, I suggest you check it out.
This is Part 2, where we talk about the bad things that can happen during your talk, speech or performance, and how you can respond in the best possible way.
2. The public speaking panic attack: How to handle it (better than Michael Bay)
It’s our worst nightmare as public speakers: the public speaking panic attack.
We might have done all our advance preparation, and set ourselves up for success, but for whatever reason, when you’re up there, from somewhere the panic sets in, nerves take hold of your whole system.
And then your mind goes blank.
When the moment we all dread happening actually happens, how can we recover?
Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
There’s no doubt it’s one of the scariest and loneliest places to find yourself and it can happen to anyone.
But if it happens to you, then what?
You have a choice – the ‘fight or flight’ choice.
It is entirely up to you. In the case of one much-talked-about Samsung presentation in 2014, Hollywood director Michael Bay chose flght…
But if you choose instead to stay and fight, what do you need to do?
Let’s start here.
- Take a moment and take a deep breath
- Accept that you have lost control and your train of thought
- Admit it—firstly to yourself and then if you want, to your audience
Now, think about this question.
What’s the worst that can happen?
It’s very important that you realise as soon as you possibly can that your audience is not your enemy.
Every audience wants the presenter to do well—if the speaker is doing well, the audience does well. If a speaker is doing badly, the audience does badly.
In Michael Bay’s case, his audience was no different and they silently willed him to recover.
We break down all possible eventualities below.
Three Quick Rules to Overcome a Public Speaking Panic Attack
1. Before you even get to the auditorium
Remember to have notes or at least a cue/anchor to help you get back on track
2. When you’ve just begun your talk
- Stop, breathe, admit, accept it yourself
- Start over
- Tell the audience (honesty is always appreciated)
3. If you’re midway through a sentence
- Stop, breathe, admit to yourself
- Repeat what you’ve just said (or just ask the audience!) and this should get you back on track.
3. How to deal with that jerk in the audience
Generally, audiences are great – they want to listen and learn.
They’re on your side and they want you to do well.
If you’re in control and confident, so are they.
Sometimes, though, we get that odd person in the audience and they are just a pain in the ass!
So how to we deal with that difficult audience member? I get asked this question from my clients so from time to time, so here are some strategies!
Here are some ideas that will help you keep control and credibility.
Mr or Mrs Love to Talk
- You can take their question or comment from this difficult audience member, thank them for their input, and move on
- If they keep talking, focus on a point they’re making. Interrupt by saying something like “Just on the point of…” and then, once you’ve broken their flow, you can take back control
- Ask them, due to time constraints, to please hold comments and questions till the end
- Tell them that to be fair to everyone in the audience and allow the opportunity for everyone to ask a question, please limit questions to one per person
- If they persist to put their hand up or try and interrupt, ignore them. You are in control of the presentation. You can choose not to keep stopping to take their comment or questions
- Do not appear rude. Acknowledge them by saying that you see they are trying to get in again, but that you will come back to them at the end
- Stay calm! You could end up alienating yourself from your entire audience if you get aggressive or negative with a difficult audience member
- Allow them to have their say … to a certain degree. Because once they have said their piece, they might just leave it at that. If you gag them immediately, they will persist throughout the presentation to be cynical and try to interrupt you
- Acknowledge them. You can acknowledge without agreeing with them. For example, for someone who brings a negative attitude to a proposed new initiative, you might say, “Tom, I understand why you feel the change is unnecessary and that you have been through two change programmes before.” This does not imply that you agree with him, but it does acknowledge and validate his experience though
- Ask them to be specific. Often a cynical audience member will throw in a comment to distract you or the audience. If you can ask them to be more specific, to give an example of what they mean, oftentimes there is little or no substance to their interruptions and they back down
- Keep on track. If they are taking the presentation off the point, you will have to restate the purpose and objectives of your presentation
- Stay professional. Never criticise anyone personally
Or maybe take a lesson from Jimmy Carr. (Beware, language warning, so not safe for a work PC without headphones!)
- First, help! Try and establish first off if they are lost or maybe they just missed, didn’t hear, or didn’t understand what you said. If they are not too much of a distraction initially, let it go!
- Use your eyes. Good eye contact tends to deter
- Use your voice. If whispering continues, look in the direction of the whispers and focus your voice directly at them. Not only will you be looking in their direction, but soon the rest of your audience will be looking to see what you are looking at
- Play the challenge card. If it still continues, you can stop, look in their direction and say “I just want to ensure that everyone is clear with what I’m talking about. I’m sorry; I hope I haven’t lost you both. Is there something I can clarify for you?”
Here’s a really annoying and difficult audience member!
What would you do?
(I’d have used that conducting stick for sure…)
4. How to avoid all presenting with technology disasters (in five easy steps)
Presenting with technology such as slide decks (delivering presentations using the likes of PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or Google Slides, for instance) affords us great freedom and creativity for memorable presentations.
But it can also go horribly wrong.
Have you ever had any of the following happen to you:
- A microphone cut out at the beginning of your presentation
- A PowerPoint slide deck suddenly freezes
- A presentation clicker is “as dead as a mouse” and no use at all
If you’ve ever found yourself in any of these situations, don’t worry.
You are not alone!
Presenting with technology affords us great freedom and creativity these days when it comes to making memorable presentations.
It can also go horribly wrong.
Check out this “worst nightmare” parody:
How to Avoid a Presenting with Technology Disaster
When you’re presenting with technology, there are a few things you can do ahead of your presentation to shrink the odds of something going wrong, so that you can head off disaster at the pass.
Here are a few tips you can use to help ensure a smooth, slick presentation delivery that hits a home run when you present with technology.
1. Check tech before (to avoid a tech wreck during your presentation!)
Always do a sound check and tech check.
Whether you’re introducing a colleague or giving a 1-hour presentation, always make time to get into the space and liaise with the sound engineer or organiser before people come into the room.
Check the following:
- Is your presentation clicker is working?
- Make sure the clicker batteries are fresh
- Check online links and that WiFi is working
- Are your PowerPoint slides working properly?
- How are your microphone and levels?
Of course there’s always a chance things might go wrong even after all that careful planning but the chances are far, far less and you can feel confident that you’ve done all your homework.
2. Ask for what you need – if you don’t ask, you don’t get
Find out if you have a choice of microphone and ask for what you need.
Whenever possible, eliminate any obstacles that come between you and the audience, the most obvious one being the dreaded podium.
There will be occasions where you won’t have a choice, such as awards ceremonies and dinner events where you will be expected to use the podium.
But if you have a choice, and you will have to ask sometimes, for presentations choose a lapel microphone, a hand-held microphone, or no microphone at all.
This will afford you freedom of movement and direct access to the audience.
3. Practice with your tech (or pay the price with your pride!)
This might seem obvious when it comes to preparation.
But do not underestimate the power of familiarity with your technology!
Especially when it comes to microphones and practising with your slide deck.
Practice your delivery using a surrogate hand-held microphone (a hair brush or even a serving spoon work in a pinch!), a microphone on a stand or using no microphone at all (as you would with a lapel mic).
It’s the simple act of imagining yourself in different situations that does the trick.
4. Do a “Recce”
When presenting with technology, in army-speak this is a “reconnaissance run”—checking out the landscape before executing the mission so there are no surprises.
In layman’s terms this means getting into the space you’ll be delivering in and getting the lay of the land before the actual event.
Some examples of things to think about during your “recce” mission.
- Where you’ll be standing
- Where the screen will be
- How high the screen will be placed
- How large the room is, so will you have to use a microphone or not
- What will the lighting be like…?
Basically, this is a chance for you to get all the information you can before the actual event.
The chance of success goes up, and the room for glitches goes down!
5. Have a Plan B (a.k.a. Prepare for the Worst!)
Some of the best presentations are just one person and a flip chart.
No matter what happens, the show must go on, right?
So have a plan of action ready if the worst case scenario occurs.
What about if the electricity goes out, or your laptop decides to pack it in?
Always, always, always have a hard copy of your slides or notes with you for every eventuality.
If you’ve prepared and know your content, you’ll be able to deliver your presentation no matter what fate throws at you. And trust me, the audience will be with you every step of the way because we love an underdog.
At the end of the day, failing to plan is planning to fail.
The Presenting with Technology Recap
No matter how much we check our technology is working, things may inevitably go awry. That’s just the nature of the beast.
So in order to reduce the chances of a major technological glitch affecting your big presentation, you need to be prepared.
When you plan ahead you’ll at least be ready to pick up the ball and run no matter what.
- Do a “Tech Check” in advance
- Ask for what you need
- Practice with any technology involved
- Recce the room
- Have a Plan B
Do your reconnaissance, practice, and plan for as many eventualities as you can and above all, Keep Calm And Carry On!
5. The secrets to fighting imposter syndrome
We’ve all been there when it comes to public speaking.
You’re on stage in front of an audience and suddenly imposter syndrome rears its ugly head and you hear your inner critic say, ‘You don’t deserve to be here.’
Public speaking is the perfect breeding ground for imposter syndrome to strike and strike hard. Whether it happens in front of one person or an entire audience, the feelings are the same.
You feel an exposed inadequacy, undeserving of where you are, and that you have no credibility.
I’m here to tell you that you are not alone.
And when I say ‘public speaking’, that includes business meetings, job interviews, and or even sales calls.
Yet imposter syndrome need not cripple you or lead to miss out on opportunities to move up the ladder in your career. You can gain awareness, make a plan of action, and do something about it.
The Energy Of Public Speaking is Real And Powerful
One of the triggers of imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are being judged. It’s also one of the reasons that nerves can get the better of you.
Similarly, there is another trigger in public speaking that kicks off imposter syndrome – the energy of being the center of attention.
This ‘performance energy’ is hugely real. No one is immune to it and it can strike when you’re talking to one person or speaking to an audience of a thousand.
Suddenly, everybody is there to hear YOU and they all assume you know what you’re talking about. After all, you’re on stage and they’re not.
So the question is: What are you going to do about it?
Be Prepared And Don’t Fall Into The ‘Wing It’ Trap
First off, we all know that ‘winging it’ is never a good idea. It sets you up for panic and failure and no speaker worth their salt would rely on improvising completely on the night.
Second, public speaking is the perfect petri dish for imposter syndrome, namely fear of failure, perfectionism, and self-doubt. Preparation is your secret weapon against all of the above.
Preparation and rehearsal create physical memories in your body and get you out of your head and into a more grounded, centered place. When you take action in the face of fear, you’re half-way to finding a solution.
The more you practice being in a place of vulnerability and panic, the less power it will have over you. Rehearse in front of people you trust, film yourself and watch it back, practice in different venues.
Then, if imposter syndrome kicks in, your body will remember feeling uncomfortable, dealing with it, and getting on with the job at hand.
Trust Your Body, Not Your Brain
We know from scientific fact that physical memory is much stronger than thought memory.
When you physicalize your public speaking practice, the information sticks in your muscle memory more indelibly than if you just think about it. Don’t rely on thinking a good game in your head. There’s too much going on in there anyway!
When imposter syndrome kicks in and all that rehearsal and practice seems to go out the window, don’t panic. All the information your body learned through purposeful practice and rehearsal is still there.
Take a breath, ground yourself, and give your body a second to remember. Trust that you’ve done the work and therefore you have what you need in the moment.
Take The Focus Off Yourself And Put It On The Audience
There’s a dichotomy that exists in public speaking. The spotlight is most definitely on you as the speaker and yet the most important person in the room is the audience.
Impostor syndrome stems from feeling inadequate and judged by others. To combat these fears, take the focus off yourself and think instead about what you can give to your audience.
When you come from a place of what you can give rather than what you can get, your thoughts will be placed on a much higher level. Make generosity the foremost thought in your mind and take the pressure off yourself to be perfect.
Create Public Speaking Habits That Will Last A Lifetime
Whether you’re giving an update, presenting at a conference, or on the phone with a prospective customer, creating good public speaking habits and practicing them consistently will stand to you in the long run.
Imposter syndrome cannot compete with muscle memory. Once you learn a skill, be it the power of pause, using your hands naturally, or grounding your energy with breathing techniques, that skill is in your body forever.
Remember that your body will rescue you in a moment of panic, if you let it. Practice deliberate breathing, create a clear regime of practice with skills that resonate with you, gain awareness around what you can change, and create a plan of action.
Hone a few specific, applicable public speaking skills and imposter syndrome will have a harder time taking hold. If you change your behaviour, you can change the way you feel. Do the work and the work will work for you.
6. Quick recap
Thanks for reading this guide to overcoming nerves in public speaking and presentations.
This was all about during your talk or presentation.
If you haven’t get checked out Part 1 (about the things you can do before your presentation), do make sure to go there also.
Here you learned all about dealing with panic attacks, jerks in the audience and the whisperers and talkers and cynics who seem to want to put you off stride.
We also went through the tech checks you can do to make sure you’re best prepared.
And we finished with some tips to overcome imposter syndrome, which, let’s face it, seems to affect absolutely everyone!
Thanks for reading.