“I’m dreading having to do that presentation.” “Could someone else do the bit at the end where we have to present our ideas to the others?” “I hope I won’t have to say anything in that meeting...”
Presenting your work, your ideas and opinions to other people – for example, in front of a class or in a group activity – can be daunting and make you feel nervous, anxious or fearful. You may have physical symptoms such as dizziness, sweating, or your heart beating very fast. You might experience dread, and find that fear of a presentation has interrupted your sleep or affected your life. You may even have experienced a panic attack or withdrawn from a class when you discovered you would have to do a presentation. These feelings and reactions are quite common and have sometimes been described as “performance anxiety”.
There are many possible reasons behind these feelings of fear and anxiety. You might not have confidence in your abilities as a presenter. You might believe it’s just not what you do best, so you shy away from it. Perhaps you have concerns about how you sound to others, or your appearance. You may doubt that you are able to do justice to the topic you are supposed to speak about.
Think about one or two situations when you experienced those troublesome feelings of anxiety - before, during or after presenting.
How did you feel?
Why do you think you felt that way?
Who or what made you feel that way?
You're not alone; many successful presenters have had similar feelings. What has helped them feel better about presenting? In the video below, Francisco talks about the stresses of presenting in a second language (in his case, English) at conferences. He offers some tips that have helped him to feel more confident and to reduce his anxiety.
Watch the video and make a note of the tips suggested by Francisco. Have you done similar things? Could you use his tips?
Francisco gives practical suggestions that include simple things such as remembering to breathe. Were there any other tips you found useful?
In the next video, Ian looks back on his experiences as a first-year student, including not being able to “get the words out right”. Watch Ian's video now and make a note of any tips you find useful.
Ian mentions that pacing up and down has sometimes helped him while presenting, but that it may not be possible in an online presentation. What are the challenges of speaking online for you, for example in an online tutorial or seminar? Can you think of any tips that can help you gain confidence?
Francisco and Ian both mentioned it can be helpful to practise (though not too much!) But you don’t always have a chance to practise. Sometimes you might be put on the spot and have to speak even though you did not want or plan to do so. How can you deal with a situation that you have little control over and that may fill you with dread or make you panic? In the final video, Agnes talks about gradually getting used to being put on the spot.
Do you prefer to think things through before you speak? It is a characteristic of many introverts. What are the pros and cons of carefully considering your ideas before sharing them with others?
Hopefully this resource has helped you critically reflect on your feelings about presenting and speaking out, has shown you that you're not alone in feeling this way, and has offered some tips for support. But it's important to note that you don't have to do this alone!
If you're in a study situation and you're feeling anxious or panicky about giving a presentation or speaking up in class, it's important you talk to a tutor, lecturer or member of support staff. They'll be able to make sure you get the support you need. If your anxiety is extreme or debilitating, they might offer some adjustments to the assignment task so that you can complete it in a way you feel more comfortable. 'Reasonable adjustments' to presentation tasks might include pre-recording a presentation as a video, or giving a 'closed room' presentation to your tutor/lecturer only, rather than a large audience. It's important to speak to staff in your institution to see what might help you.
It's also good to talk to friends, family and fellow students. You might be surprised, their impressions of your presentation skills might be quite different to your own, you might be a far better presenter than you think! It's also surprising how much a strong vote of confidence from friends and family can help you gain confidence and feel good in presenting and speaking out.