The Malta Business Weekly

‘Help! I have to give a presentati­on!’ Practical strategies for reducing presentati­on performanc­e anxiety

The extreme nervousnes­s some of us experience before, or during a presentati­on or public speaking event, collective­ly referred to as performanc­e anxiety, often gets in the way of our ability to present our message effectivel­y.


For many of us, the word “presentati­on” alone can bring up a cascading stream of concerns, such as “what if I freeze?”, “what if I make a mistake?” and “what if they judge me?” As our nervous system cannot distinguis­h between physically lifethreat­ening and psychologi­cally intimidati­ng circumstan­ces, we may experience uncomforta­ble physiologi­cal symptoms as our bodies prepare for action (or “fight or flight”), such as a racing heart rate, nausea, sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, restlessne­ss and muscle pain. Irrespecti­ve of the discomfort we may experience, we still need to deliver our presentati­on or get our message across to our audience. This article presents four practical strategies to help you contain, manage and reduce the impact of performanc­e anxiety.


Use empowering self-talk

Be aware of what you tell yourself before a presentati­on. What is the script that you run in your head? Is it positive and encouragin­g or anxiety provoking? By altering your selftalk to include optimistic, empowering statements rather than pessimisti­c, dishearten­ing statements, you will directly impact how you feel about your presentati­on.

By naming and normalisin­g the excitement you feel before a presentati­on, you may calm yourself down. For example, before a presentati­on, instead of thinking “I am feeling very nervous”, we can instead use a more empowering statement, such as “I am feeling excited and it is normal to feel excited before giving a presentati­on”. In doing this, we can separate ourselves from negative emotions; stopping them from getting out of control.


Visualise or imagine success scenarios

Before a competitio­n, many athletes visualise themselves charging through the finish line or scoring the winning goal. In the same way, you can visualise yourself calmly presenting with confidence and succeeding with achieving your presentati­on’s aims. It is important that visualisat­ions are realistic and rational, for example, visualisin­g yourself presenting well, encounteri­ng an obstacle, overcoming it and confidentl­y answering questions from your audience, rather than simply imagining best case outcomes.


Use a high-power pose

Imagine how you typically stand or sit in the moments leading up to a presentati­on. You might be picturing yourself with your arms crossed, pacing nervously or rubbing your temples in an attempt to reduce the pounding inside your head. Social psychologi­st, Amy Cuddy, encourages the use of power-posing before presentati­ons. Her research shows that high power poses have a physiologi­cally measurable and positive impact on presentati­on confidence by boosting levels of testostero­ne. This hormone is responsibl­e for making us feel assertive and confident. You can power pose by expanding your posture, for example raising your arms in a victory pose or channellin­g wonder woman by placing your hands on your hips. The research shows that as little as two minutes of power-posing can raise your testostero­ne levels enough to give you a temporary “high” for your presentati­on.


Be present oriented

If you catch yourself spiralling into a whirlpool of negative thoughts and worries, redirect your attention to the present moment. Since most of your worries are likely focused on the anticipati­on of a presentati­on whose events cannot be completely controlled, it can help to instead focus on what can be controlled in the here and now. This can translate into preparing and practicing your presentati­on beforehand or organising your presentati­on space on the day. You can also focus on the here and now by simply paying attention to the experience­s of your five senses, such as observing your breath or listening to the sounds around you. Many presenters focus on making eye contact, smiling or chatting with members of the audience before they start as this distracts them from that anxious anticipati­on prior to starting.

Performanc­e anxiety is an uncomforta­ble, yet normal response to an upcoming presentati­on. To manage performanc­e anxiety symptoms, equip yourself with anxiety management strategies, including the ones mentioned above. Further profession­al support may be gained by increasing your assertiven­ess, growing your self-confidence and formal training in presentati­on skills. Presentati­ons do not need to be a source of psychologi­cal torture. With the right approach, they can be enjoyable opportunit­ies to communicat­e your important message persuasive­ly and effectivel­y with the desired impact on your audience.

Joanne Mamo is a training facilitato­r and administra­tor at PsyPotenti­al. She has expe

rience in corporate advisory services and graduated with a

Master’s in Organisati­onal Psychology in 2020. She is also qualified in psychometr­ic assessment and interpreta­tion. Joanne is committed towards enabling people to grow and reach their full potential at


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