Presentation nerves – coping with different types

What’s that? There are different types of nerves? Afraid so, yes. What’s more, if you’re using techniques to control one particular type of nerves but you’ve actually got a belly-full of the other type, it’s not going to help your presentation at all. Presentation nerves can come from:

  • worry about the content
  • concern over the delivery
  • anxiety about the logistics.

I’ve got tools for all three, but like you can’t use a screwdriver on a nail, they work far better if they’re tackling what they’re designed for.

A couple of examples might make it a bit more clear

Presentations nerves example #1

A friend of mind had a job interview recently. It was a big deal. She was good at the job she had (great in fact) and had all the necessary things you need for the big, new job. The stakes were high though, as this was for a permanent contract, and the interview was on the day her current – fixed-term – contract came to an end!

The interview had a presentation element and the Q&A bit. The presentation part was freaking my friend out, despite all the positives of being a great presenter with more stage-time experience than even I have! Nothing she was trying was working and she was starting to lose sleep as a result of the presentation nerves.

isn't the tube well presented!

So the solution? Take a quick but hard look at the actual causes of the nerves. We discovered that a significant chunk of what was making her nervous about the presentation was the logistics of using the tube (London’s big, complicated and messy underground public transport system). How long would the journey take? Which line should she get on, in which direction? Where should she change? For what line in what direction? Which station should she get off at?

No wonder her tools for controlling presentation nerves weren’t having an impact – they didn’t even try to look at a the real cause of the problem – the journey there.

Presentations nerves example #2

This is personal. I’m doing a gig tomorrow in a city I don’t know, at a venue I don’t know, for people I don’t know. The gig itself is high-risk and finishes with a Big Bang, for effect and fun. It’s worked in the past but there’s always the risk of it falling very flat. (If you were at the gig you know what I’m talking about!)

Look at that paragraph again and it’s clear there are two different causes for the nerves – one is to do with the presentation itself (will it work or will it fall flat on its arse?) and there’s a raft of nerves to do with the logistics – and including in that the travel logistics of things like how long will it take to get there etc but also the “social” logistics of getting food and making the necessary small-talk.

Each of those needs a different approach for sorting out the nerves.

So what’s a poor presenter to do?

It’s obvious, but trite, to say that you handle each type of nerve differently. For example, in the examples above the solution to the ‘logistics-related nerves’ was a logistics-related-planing-session. Check out the journey and maybe (in the first case, where it was practical) do a dummy run. You’d be amazed about how much calmer you feel doing something for the second time than the first.

In the second example, it wasn’t possible to do a dummy run, so it came down to planning. Google Maps, Apple Maps and the car’s in-car sat-nav were all consulted about the likely drive time and alternative routes planned. Mobile numbers for emergency contacts were checked… you get the idea.

And once the logistics (easy to solve) nerves were taken care of there was much more head-space available for dealing with nerves about the presentation itself. In many cases I’ve found that you don’t even need to take on those nerves particularly because of two things:

  • reducing the overall nerves about the presentation by taking away the logistics-nerves brought things down to levels that could be handled; and
  • just doing something about the issue gave a sense of control, which helped.

The beauty is that you (sometimes) don’t need to handle the nerves about your presentation itself, which can be harder to shift.

A tool for logistics-based presentation nerves

This is such a simple tool I hesitate to mention it – although I have blogged about it before. Because logistics and so on are (jargon alert!) presentation hygiene factors, you can tackle generally them with crude, tactical tools. The one I suggest you think about is the humble checklist.

presentation nerves checklist

A couple of weeks before your presentation just sit down and list all the things that could go wrong logistically. Write them one on a line and make them into a checklist. Keep adding things until you can’t think of anything more, then just leave the list around to add to every now and again. Every time you think of something that could go wrong and/or make you more nervous about your presentation, jot it down.

When the list is reasonably comprehensive you’ve now got a list of things to go through, one at a time and tick them off when you’re done with that item. By the time you get to the bottom of the list, anything logistic that could blow up in your face, won’t ‘cos you’ve checked it!

A tool for delivery nerves

I’ve put lots of these up over the years, but here’s one that I’m particularly fond of at the moment and use myself… at the biggest gig I’ll ever do in my life!

By the way

I know that there’s a technical issue with the blog. If you search for “nerves” you’ll get a lot of helpful material, (such as this one) but some of it isn’t formatted correctly. I’m working on it! For some reason it’s affected the posts about confidence and nerves more than others – probably because of one of the plugins I’m using – but I’m on it! 🙂

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