Every time I’m due to give some kind of public presentation or speech, I get a severe attack of pre-talk jitters. It usually comes at some time between when I first arrive at the venue and when I’m actually being announced. My mouth goes dry. My heart attempts to climb out of my throat and I start looking for the exits. I can’t do this. What was I thinking? Tell ‘em you feel sick, or better yet, invent an emergency so you can get the heck out of here.
Luckily, my old gran had strong opinions about coping with fear.
“Of course you’re scared, boy. It’s dark and cramped up there, and some of those spiders are big buggers. But being brave ain’t about not being frightened. It’s about being scared witless, but doing it anyway. So get your cowardly arse in gear and start climbing. That chimney won’t clean itself.”
I’ve given plenty of readings, workshops etc. over the last twelve months, and I have to say, those pre-talk jitters don’t seem to diminish, but thanks to my old gran’s ‘tough love’ approach, I have learned how to keep them at bay.
10 WAYS TO COPE WITH PRE-PRESENTATION JITTERS
1: Expect to be nervous
If you usually get a pre-talk panic attack, don’t hope it doesn’t come, expect it.
2: Practice your presentation
Knowing your presentation is well-honed and well-practiced is a great comfort. I have sheets with bullet points on, which I refer to throughout a talk, so I don’t lose my thread if I get distracted or stray too far off-track.
3: Be prepared to panic
Make a note of when that panic attack usually begins (for me, it’s usually when I first walk into the room/hall where my talk will take place), but whenever they usually occur, have a plan to chase those jitters away.
4: Decide to deal
My old gran’s approach works just as well today as it did when I was a frightened youngster, terrified of spiders and dark, confined spaces. I’ve found that telling myself to get my cowardly bottom in gear and start climbing really helps.
5: Have a standard Presentation Kit.
I keep a check list so I don’t need to worry about forgetting something. My standard presentation kit includes:
- Printed sheet with presentation subject, audience type, name and contact details of the person who booked me and/or the event host.
- Printed sheet with venue address and directions
- Whiteboard, stand and markers (or if venue supplies whiteboard, just markers)
- Presentation notes (usually bullet points)
- Notes/CDs to give out to attendees (if required)
- Letter size promo displays (if required)
- Fur-Face CDs and I are a writer! mugs to sell (if required)
- Receipt book and change (if required)
- Bottle of water
6: Create a distraction
Nervous thoughts love wide open spaces (which is probably why they like spending time in my head). Don’t give them a chance to take root. If the venue room is empty, do something physical, like moving chairs around – it doesn’t matter if the room’s already set up perfectly, you can always move them back again. At the same time, practice your opening lines.
7: Find a friendly face
There should be at least one friendly face at the venue (the person who booked you to come and talk). I’ve found a few minutes chatting with people about themselves and their work really helps me to settle down.
8: Look busy
If the host is busy and/or I’m too nervous to talk to someone, I’ve found it helps to read through my notes or even write out my opening lines, longhand. Anything is better than sitting there, staring into space – that’s an open invitation to nerves and doubts.
9: What would my old gran say?
As a last resort, if numbers 1 thru 8 haven’t done the trick and I still want to make a break for it, I force myself to imagine my old gran, sitting in the backseat of my car, ready to deliver her ‘And now your ancestors are ashamed of you…again’ speech. That always does the trick.
I left number 10 blank.
What would you add to the list?