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  • Writer's pictureShari Hildred

Presentation or Group Facilitation Coming Up? 10 Tips to Calm Your Nerves

Presentation and facilitation are true art forms. Although none of us are likely in the realm of Pablo Picasso, it's possible to take your personal ‘blank canvas’ and develop your unique style and build your confidence.

Public Speaking is the number one fear among adults. If you get nervous about presenting or facilitating groups, with a little guidance, you can develop and hone skills and techniques to feel more at ease and in control. You can learn how to build trust and boost participation during meetings, discussions and presentations while creating the right conditions for powerful dialogue and consensus building.

Here are 10 tips to help calm your nerves and set yourself up for success.

1. Practice! Practice! Practice!

You’ll want to rehearse your presentation several times. While the pace of work and day-to-day life can make it challenging to carve out time to practice, it's critical if you want to provide an engaging facilitation or presentation. Expert tip — write it out. You’re much more likely to feel organized and prepared if you write it out instead of just winging it.

For some, it's also beneficial to record your presentation and play it back, allowing an opportunity to assess areas you feel need fine tuning. Reviewing a recording can flag bad habits (ex. saying "um") that you may not be aware of.

2. Change Your Position

It’s recommended to rehearse your presentation in a variety of positions such as standing up, sitting down, with arms open wide, on one leg — the idea being, the more you change up your position, the more comfortable you'll feel in your setting.

3. Shift Your Focus to Enthusiastic Energy to Knock Down Nervous Energy

As odd as it may sound, different techniques such as listening to music that pumps you up (think gym workout playlist) can assist in turning nervous, jittery energy into enthusiasm. An energetic, dynamic and enthusiastic presentation can win over one that is more subdued. Try to harness your enthusiastic and energetic self as much as you are able before going in front of a crowd.

4. See What Others are Doing

It’s recommended to rehearse your presentation in a variety of positions such as standing up, sitting down, with arms open wide, on one leg — the idea being, speakers. Not only does this give a nod of respect to other fellow presenters, it provides an opportunity to feel out the crowd. You may be able to gauge the mood of the audience (ex. Are they amicable to humor/laughing? Are they more serious?). This can assist in determining the tone in which you want to present. And, often, you can find a piece to ‘play off of.’ For example, I recently presented a strategic governance session (ok, drier material for sure!) to a Special Olympics leadership group. This presentation was following an Olympic curling legend who stole the hearts and the stage. Let me state the obvious — yes, a hard act to follow! However, I was able to spring board from her final comments on the importance of the Special Olympics organizations in making opportunities possible for youth. And, by focusing on her closing comments I was able to segue into the importance of governance.

5. Plan to Arrive Early

Make sure you have ample time to get oriented to the place you're presenting at by getting there early. If you're presenting or facilitating somewhere you're unfamiliar with, plan ahead. Know where you’re going, where to park, what floor you need to go to, etc. Running late adds to stress and anxiety. Avoid this by being prepared to get to where you need to be, and early.

The more comfortable you are in the environment the more relaxed you'll feel. Simple strategies such as being in the room you're presenting in ahead of time, even for a short duration, will provide a sense of calm while also allowing you to check out the logistics (ex. Is the lighting adequate? Who's managing audio/video requirements? Where's the microphone? Is it cordless or will it be a potential a tripping hazard?). You’ll also be able to get a handle on things that could be a nuisance in the venue and possibly address them (ex. ambient noise from adjacent rooms or other potential distractions, ‘personalities,’ etc.). Not long ago, I presented at a major hotel in Calgary, AB which also happened to be the location where hockey player Sidney Crosby and his team were staying while there for a game. This proved to be a ‘distraction’ as the team was having breakfast next to our conference room. Attendees were feeling star struck and trying to sneak a peek into the teams’ breakfast room. A little exercise in ‘herding the cats’ was required.

Finally, early arrival can provide an opportunity to chat with attendees. A meet and greet as they come into the room will give them the chance to see your personality and openness before your presentation, and perhaps you may even garner discussion points, questions or responses which can be embedded in your presentation.

6. Imagine Positive Outcomes

The use of visualization can be very powerful. If you're able to envision a positive outcome in your mind, there's greater likelihood for it to play out. Instead of focusing on the negative such as ‘I hate public speaking,’ visualize the audience smiling, engaging, nodding in agreement or laughing. This, coupled with enthusiasm during the presentation, creates incredible results. Studies show that practicing mindfulness — the concept of being present in and embracing the moment rather than being suffocated by self-criticism and anxiety — has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

7. Just Breathe, Pause and Smile

Taking deep breaths is a proven strategy for reducing anxiety for leading a group or giving a presentation. Our muscles tighten when we're nervous (some people will even find themselves holding their breath). Taking deep breaths helps get needed oxygen to the brain and relaxes your body.

Actively think about pausing. Pausing can help highlight certain points you're making and move from a robotic to more conversational presentation style. And, often nerves tend to have the impact of speeding up speech and talking faster, which in turn will cause you to run out of breath and get even more panicky or nervous. Don’t be afraid to slow down.

Also, smile. Smiling increases endorphins and helps to move the mind and body from anxiousness to calmness and has the added benefit of demonstrating enthusiasm and confidence to the audience.

8. Stance is Power - Find a Pose that Makes You Feel Confident

Focusing on body language can elevate confidence and calm your pre-presentation or pre-facilitation nerves. The reality is your mind will follow along when your body is physically demonstrating confidence. Some studies have indicated that using a confident, strong stance before delivering a presentation supports an enduring sense of assurance. Even if you haven’t mastered a confident, comfortable power stance, don’t remain passive. Don’t sit — either stand or walk about to help combat those 'butterflies.' Even the simple act of holding your head high and focusing on straight posture can go a long way in developing a power stance pose and increased confidence.

9. H20, Please - Drink When You Need To

Anxiety causes a dry mouth, plain and simple. Staying hydrated will offset a dry mouth caused by nerves. Remember to have a glass or bottle of water close at hand during your presentation in case you get a dry mouth, and as a reminder and excuse to take those important pauses. (Also, don’t forget to hit the facilities before you get started!)

10. Face Your Fears Head On

It’s natural to let your own thoughts take over like worrying about if people will notice your anxiety, and doing so only increases nervousness. Embrace the fear. Address it. Own it don’t let it own you. You can open with a comment that addresses it straight up such as, “I was very nervous about presenting today, however after spending time meeting and greeting many of you ahead of this presentation, I’m confident that the items we’ll cover today are necessary topics in our current environment.” Remember the value in shifting focus to enthusiastic energy from nervous energy. Anxiety isn’t bad. It just needs to be transformed into imagining positive outcomes.

Bottom line — best practice techniques will help guide you from start to finish, whether through basic meeting management or larger staff and stakeholder activities. With new skills and confidence, you CAN effectively engage with different audiences, seamlessly facilitate group settings and achieve actionable outcomes.

About Shari Hildred

Shari Hildred has over 20 years of management and project experience in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. She shares her expertise in leadership, project management, and communications courses as a Professional Development instructor and facilitator with the U of R. She has delivered customized training for many organizations including the Public Services Commission, the Ministries of Health, Economy, Agriculture and Education, as well as SaskPower, the RCMP and the Red Circle Planning Group.

Shari is certified as a PMP by PMI, studied Cultural Resource Management at the University of Victoria and completed the Art of the Executive Leader training at Banff Centre for the Arts. She studied Public Policy at the Jonhson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and has completed GBA+ training.

Her passion for heritage was recognized with a City of Regina Municipal Heritage Award and a Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan Heritage Architecture Excellence Award for outstanding contributions.

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