Have you ever given a presentation feeling utterly nervous as you went on stage? Well, the more appropriate question would be “who has not felt this way”. Literally everyone in our Oral Presentation Workshops points this out as one of the major challenges for Oral Presentations. 

Giving a talk in front of a crowd of people is – for the vast majority of humans on this planet – not comfortable at all. It causes stress and anxiety, and rightly so, as no one is born with some kind of miracle presentation-master gene. It is a downright hostile situation to be placed in front of a huge crowd of probably unknown people who will judge you and your presentation. 

So how can you deal with the nervousness? Bad news first, there is no universal “cure” for this stage fright. And now comes the very important BUT: You can lower your stress levels significantly.

  1. Most important step: Practise. This sounds very trivial, but most people underestimate the power of practice. “Practise your presentation” does not mean to look at it on the computer screen, maybe reading your notes in your head. This is a first step, but the real practice is to actually say out loud what you want to say, ideally standing up, having the presentation beside you. A useful tip that has helped me to step on stages multiple times: I learn the first couple of sentences by heart (never more!). It helps me to get into the flow of my presentation.
  2. Breathe. And yes, breathing exercises actually do work. Here is a nice podcast by a neurology professor in Stanford about the physiological breath to lower stress and anxiety. 
  3. Are you afraid of facing your audience’s questions? Make your presentation as simple as possible. This way, you open the way for follow-up questions on your research, that you will surely be able to answer. Remember, it is your research and no one will know more about it than you. 
  4. Get every unknown variable out of the way. Familiarise yourself with the venue, make sure our presentation works, be there ahead of time, know the technical setup (e.g. will you have a pointer?)….
  5. Last but not least: Believe in yourself, your research, and your presentation (kick the a** of this persistent beast of impostor-syndrome). 
  6. This is not a tip but a fact: Adrenaline is a good sign. First, it shows that you care very much about your presentation, and second, it helps you make your best performance on stage. 

The more you get used to talking in public, the less scary it gets. Giving regular talks in front of your research group can help a great deal, as well as teaching other students. Last but not least: Find a smiling and nodding face in the audience, someone who is encouraging you.

And if you are attending a talk next, rather than giving it yourself: Remember to be that smiling and encouraging face. 

Good luck with your next talk!