From time-to-time I get approached with the question, “can I get rid of presentation anxiety?” The answer is, it depends and it really depends on your level of anxiety.

Some level of nervousness is not unusual before a presentation. This kind of nervousness resolves itself quickly as the presentation gets underway. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The nervousness is a reminder that the presentation is important and it gives you a boost of energy right before going on stage.

Now if you have debilitating anxiety before a presentation, you’re going to want to work to dial that down.

The Worst Case of Public Speaking Anxiety I’ve Seen

While in graduate school I met a woman who suffered from some of the worst presentation anxiety I’ve ever seen. In fact she would get so nervous that her normally perfect vision would fail her and she couldn’t read her notes.

She tried to compensate by using notes in huge font, but that didn’t even work and she was in the habit of memorizing every speech, word-for-word before the big day.

She said it was like a black cloud would descend over her mind during the presentation blocking her ability to think clearly and erasing the speech from her memory. So it was a race to the finish to give her speech before the black cloud covered up the words in her mind.  Needless to say, she was dreading an upcoming speech that we all had to give.

I offered to work with her to help her overcome her anxiety. She was skeptical, but desperate. We spent one afternoon working through her anxiety. The next day was the presentation.

She was also in the habit of arriving hours early before a presentation and practicing in the exact spot where she would be speaking.  She felt this helped her memorize the last details.

The morning of the presentation, she didn’t show up early. Her friends actually started to get worried about her and were relieved when she arrived about half an hour before the presentations started. She was calm and excited. By the way, excited is a nice substitute for anxious.

Her presentation was brilliant! She was poised and confident. She even made a couple of jokes and ventured “off-script” when appropriate. She then fielded a question and answer session without missing a beat. As an unscripted part of a presentation, this used to be what she dreaded the most.

Afterwards she received lots and praise and accolades. Everyone noticed the difference in her. I was so proud of her!

I asked her later how she felt about the presentation. She said it was exhilarating and that it was amazing to be able to think and see while up in front of a group of people.

The black cloud was gone. She said it was hard to remember what it used to be like before the change. I told her that was perfect and that she shouldn’t give it another thought.

Where Are You on The Presentation Anxiety Spectrum?

So how do you feel about giving presentations?

Are there some pre-speech jitters?

Some anxiety as you prepare and deliver the speech?

Are you in full-blown panic mode, counting the minutes before you have to step on stage and dreading every moment?

No matter where you fall on the presentation anxiety spectrum, there’s hope! Speaking is a skill that you can begin develop right away.

To get started, I’d like you to think about the nervousness and brainstorm how it can be a good thing. I know, you may have to dig deep to find some uses for it, but they exist. Then knowing what it can do for you, start to use it and make it work for you.


John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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