Presentation anxiety

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7th June 2007

presentation anxiety, friend or foe?

In the second of four articles, John Davies, of Oatmeal Training looks at fear of public speaking.

There are two types of presenters, those that are nervous before presenting and those that are liars. You've heard it said many times before - the fear of speaking is considered by many as their number one fear, outdistancing death and spiders. There are many stories of entertainment superstars who undergo extraordinary episodes of stage fright immediately before they perform. They’ve experienced blurred vision, nausea, and headaches - even after performing hundreds of times. So, if these entertainers face anxiety on stage, is it any wonder that the rest of us may be fearful of appearing before a group of people?

Rule 1 – anxiety is good

If I had a pound for every person who asked me how they could cure their anxiety about speaking in public, I’d have enough to take you away first class to Vegas for the weekend, have some money spare to buy some tacky souvenirs and no doubt be able to buy a round of drinks in first class on the way home. But the truth is, anxiety is here to stay. The good news is that it’s a crucial part of performing well, as long as it doesn’t take over you and prevent you from reaching your fullest potential, since anxiety often stops people accepting speaking opportunities altogether that could advance their careers.

Rule 2 – you can’t perform brain surgery after a day’s training

presentation anxiety is caused by a multitude of factors centred around the fear of failure, humiliation and loss of self esteem. The good news is we can learn to control our anxiety and present with confidence, and the key word here is ‘learn’, just like any other skill. Many people have unrealistic expectations about their speaking ability, thinking that if they can run a successful business, they can easily put together a presentation. However, this assumption is flawed, inevitably not giving them the required result, leading to frustration and even more anxiety. How often do you find yourself giving presentations? Two to three times a year? Now compare that to the amount of meetings you attend, so why do you expect your speaking skills to be as developed as your decision-making ability? You simply do not speak enough to have overcome those fears of public speaking.

Rule 3 – the pressure’s off

If you devote such a small amount of time to public speaking, you’re unlikely to become an accomplished speaker overnight, and you cannot expect to excel without some coaching and a little practice. Perfection is unrealistic, but speaking effectively is easily within your grasp.

Rule 4 – amateurs and fools wing it

Delivering effective presentations is a learned skill, and rehearsing is a critical step of your presentation and one of the key ways to reduce your anxiety. This will enable you to become familiar with the material so you can focus on the passion and emotion needed to create a natural free flowing speech.

Rule 5 – presentation anxiety is not life threatening

It may sound silly, but what’s the worst that could happen? Anxiety is based on the belief that something terrible will happen. You could forget your lines, shake, sneeze - none of them are fatal - and chances are if you’ve rehearsed they won’t happen, so smile to yourself, remember Rule 5, and you will live through it.

Top tips:

· Connect with the audience before you go up on stage, circulate with the delegates and ask them what they hope to get from the event.

· Relax, count to three before you speak, make eye contact and let them know that you’re controlled, confident and ready.

· Speak slowly to start, the audience needs to get used to your voice and your accent. Anxiety causes us to speak quicker than we normally do, so take your time.

· Think successfully. The audience want you to succeed to picture the audience at the end of your presentation applauding, visualise yourself at your best, positively getting through the speaking engagement and handling the presentation effectively even if things don't go as planned.

· As you’re waiting to speak, control your breathing, start by inhaling slowly through your nose -and as you inhale your stomach should expand outward. As you exhale through your mouth, your stomach flattens out. Start to breathe this way while you're waiting to speak. And when it’s time, take a nice, deep, breath, and when you begin to exhale, start talking out loud.

And lastly, next time you hear an impromptu, off the cuff presentation, remember this quote from Mark Twain

"It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech"

Notes to editors:


The Oatmeal Group is a UK company specializing in providing communication excellence to the executive workplace. The Oatmeal Group is served through four business divisions, consultancy, training, marketing and adventures. 

More information on The Oatmeal Group can be found on the company website at


Further enquiries to:


John Davies (Marketing) – 0845 899 1248,

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