Is it normal to be nervous before a presentation?

In this guide we will discuss “is it normal to be nervous before a presentation?” and some tips on how to cope with being nervous or anxious before a presentation.

Is it normal to be nervous before a presentation?

It is normal to be nervous before a big presentation.

Most people can feel afraid and terrified when they face public speaking.

If you are a student and you’ve had to present in front of your class in the classroom or you are currently working and you’ve had to face presenting in the meeting room in front of your colleagues and your boss then, you are very familiar with the feeling of having an upset stomach, sweat excessively, heart about to pop out of our chests, etc.

However, consider how feeling nervous from time to time does not mean we can self diagnose and say we have a social anxiety disorder.

This needs to be assessed and diagnosed by a professional. 

Moreover, we have to consider how our brains are wired in a way that if we perceive a potential threat then it will trigger our flight-or-fight response to protect us from being harmed.

Even though it is an adaptive behaviour that comes from years and years of evolution, the perceived threats we have in this century are not the same as we did when our ancestors had to protect themselves everyday just to avoid being eaten.

Our response to threats has adapted and now it manifests over situations that are not actually threatening such as presenting in front of an audience, going on a first date or meeting someone or a job interview.

If you are preparing yourself for a presentation and you have started to feel the fear and anxiety building up, let us tell you this is not permanent, there are actually many things you can do to calm your nerves and cope with your anxiety.

We will mention some of them throughout this blog.

How do I get rid of the physical symptoms?

When we speak to someone we don’t know or just recently met then we may have a series of physical symptoms such as stomach ache/stomach pain/stomach cramps, where some people have even called it “stomach anxiety”.

In addition to experiencing an increased heart rate, breathing rate, sweating, blushing, etc.

These are some of the most common symptoms of anxiety, but they can vary from one person to the next. 

We may notice how symptoms are associated to our thoughts and how those thoughts seem to feed our anxiety in a never ending cycle so just doing breathing exercises or incorporating relaxation techniques alone without tackling and changing our ways of thinking won’t be as effective.

Tip 1: Recognize and accept how you are feeling (it is normal)

Feeling anxious from time to time, specially when you have to present in front of people where you feel exposed and vulnerable is as normal as brushing your teeth in the morning (unless you don’t brush your teeth in the morning), you get the idea on how normal it can be. 

We all have felt how our anxiety kicks in, and we would like to either run away or endure as much as possible thinking “when is this endless suffering going to end”, even if it was just a 5-minute presentation but felt like an hour.

Feeling nervous is part of the process, but we can actually use those nerves to our benefit and push ourselves to our delivering our best performance.

Think about someone you really admire like your favourite performer, basketball player, or actor/actress, and how they also feel anxious.

A change of mindset will let you take advantge of it instead of seeing it as something negative.

Tip 2: come back to the present moment

When we feel nervous or anxious it is easier to think about the future and have catastrophic thoughts about it.

We tend to be so harsh on ourselves and it is actually detrimental to our self-confidence.

We think “What if I say something stupid?”, “What if I freeze or it doesn’t go well?” and a million more thoughts that come into our mind uninvited.

According to Amy Jen Su from Harvard Business Review “Bringing awareness to our physical bodies can help. Notice the physical sensations happening: a racing heart, shallow breathing, tightening of the chest, sweat, a cracking voice. Be aware of your body’s cues and take a deep breath to regain some sense of the present. Notice your surroundings. Anchor or touch something physical, such as a table or the slide advancer, or push your weight into your toes and feet.”

This will allow us to come back to the present moment, to what is happening in the here and now not how we imagine the outcome will be.

Focus on your breathing so you can send the signal to your brain about how everything is OK and you are not in real danger.

Tip 3: practice, practice, practice!

Let’s think about how when we were little, we were nervous but excited about riding our bike for the first time.

We thought it could be dangerous and how we could fall and get hurt but that didn’t stop us.

We fell and got up, until one day we were able to ride the bike on our own, no help at all. 

Delivering a speech or a presentation follows the same principle.

Even though we know how practice makes perfect, it is not necessary to focus on being perfect.

We are actually allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, meaning, if the presentation was not a complete success the first time, make sure you work harder a next time, just like with your bike.

Practice in front of other people, ask a couple of your closest friends or members of your family to listen and give out their honest and most constructive opinion. 

Tip 4: It is also about the little things

Sometimes we take for granted the little things, but they can actually contribute more than you can think of.

For instance, having a good night’s sleep the night before, staying hydrated, avoid or limit your alcohol/caffeine intake, having eaten properly (so you won’t go hungry) and picking up your outfit in advance can actually help you take care of yourself, help boost your confidence and energy levels. 

In addition, taking care of your posture and your body language will also help you go through your presentation more confident than ever.

For instance, just before you start talking take a little pause, make eye contact with some people in the audience and smile at them.

Also, try to move around (occasionally) the stage or where you are presenting.

This will help you expend some of your nervous energy and will let you get used to your surroundings. 

Tip 5: Do your research 

We know how not knowing about something or talking about a topic we are not well-prepared can spike our anxiety.

However, we are not saying you have to become an expert on the field, but it is important to speak with authority and certainty about your chosen topic.

After you have done your research, the way you organize and present the information is as important as researching your topic.

This will allow you to have a visual aid, keywords and coherently present the information to your targeted audience.

Remember to make it interesting, memorable and engage your audience with an occasional question. 

Tip 6: it’s OK not to know the answer

That moment when people start asking questions, and we fear in advance how we might not have the answer.

It is completely normal, you are not a search engine or a computer.

So it is OK if you don’t know the answer, instead have some responses prepared that would help you feel more in control over the situation as Amy from Harvard Business Review indicates:

  • “That’s a good question. I don’t have the answer right now, but I’ll get back to you on that.”
  • “My initial view and instinct on that is x. It’s a good question. Let me have the team dig into that this week and I’ll send out a fuller response.”
  • Shift the question to someone else in the room or back at the audience directly: “Let me turn this back to the group — does anyone have thoughts or a view on that right now?”

Why is this blog about is it normal to be nervous before a presentation important?

So the ultimate answer to “Is it normal to be nervous before a presentation?” is: ABSOLUTELY YES! Feeling nervous when facing this type of situations is fairly normal.

However, how we perceive it and what we do with it can make the difference. 

By following the tips we just mentioned such as recognizing and accepting what you are feeling (instead of fighting it), coming back to the present moment, practising as much as you want or being OK with the fact that you may not have all the answers will actually shift the way you perceive presenting in front of an audience or delivering a public speech.

Even though being nervous will always be part of the process, it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about is it normal to be nervous before a presentation

How do I calm my nerves before a presentation?

To calm your nerves before a presentation we recommend to:

– Practice as much as you need but without obsessing about it.

– Transform you nervousness into excitement.

– Ask other people you admire or are good with speeches/presentations to give you some tips.

– Arrive with plenty of time.

– Adjust to your surroundings so you can feel more comfortable and confident.

– Use positive visualization to visualize your success.

– Remember to breathe deeply and slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

Why do I get nervous before a presentation?

Getting nervous before a presentation is completely normal and should not be considered a bad thing.

If you are nervous then it means you care and you want to give a good presentation which can ultimately be used to benefit you instead of against you.

Is it normal to be nervous about public speaking?

Yes, it is normal to be nervous about public speaking.

This is a position that makes us feel vulnerable, exposed and allowing people to see us and have the option to judge what we say, how we behave, etc.

Is it good to be nervous?

Being nervous can be good, specially if you are able to overcome something despite the fact you were feeling terrified and scared about it.

Being nervous can also be an opportunity to put ourselves out there, on the path of experiencing different things.

The best thing to do is to embrace the feeling and turn it into a positive experience, something we can learn from.

How do I overcome my fear of presentations?

To overcome your fear of presentations we advise to:

– Research about the topic as much as you can. 

– Get ready and organize the information and how you will present it (e.g. PowerPoint slides).

– Rehearse in front of your family, friends or even your neighbour and ask them for positive and constructive feedback.

– Challenge specific worries and contrast them with reality.
– Visualize yourself having success before, during and after the presentation. This will boost your confidence.

– Don’t forget to breath slowly and deeply.

– Focus on your presentation and your topic, instead of the audience. Think you are telling a story to a friend or someone you know.

Recommended reading

What we recommend for curbing Anxiety

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References 

Su, A.J. (2016, Oct.) How to Calm Your Nerves Before a Big Presentation. Retrieved from Hbr.org.

Feloni, R. (2016, Jun.) A world champion speaker shares his best tips for beating your fear of public speaking. Retrieved from businessinsider.com. 

Mindtools.com: “Managing Presentation Nerves”

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