Don’t Picture Me Naked!

Public speaking rates as one of the greatest human fears. You have probably heard comical advice like, “picture your audience naked” but becoming a great presenter is a learned process which begins with conquering your nerves. Story by Michelle Bowden.

Glossophobia is something you might be able to relate to. It’s the fear of public speaking. And you probably know that most people feel very anxious or nervous before important presentations. For many people, this anxiety can extend to informal team meetings or one-on-one presentations to colleagues and clients, even if such events occur regularly.

If you are one of the many people who feels nervous before a presentation or business pitch you will probably know that this nervousness can present itself in a variety of different forms. Symptoms can be as mild as sweaty palms, a dry mouth, blushing or a thumping heart beat, through to physical illnesses such as the shakes, vomiting or diarrhoea (to name just a few!). No wonder public speaking is considered to be up there with some of the greatest fears in the world! These awful symptoms can significantly reduce the amount of enjoyment you derive from communicating at a high level with others.

Understandably, most people would love to eliminate the feeling of nervousness when they present or pitch. Whilst some people say it’s good to have some nervousness I tend to disagree. I believe that it’s good to have endorphins and some adrenalin pumping through your body before a presentation – this helps you to perform at your best. But nervousness – who needs it?

So, it’s time for some good news. Presenting can be fun! Managing nervousness is mostly to do with your approach, regardless of whether you are presenting one-on-one to a client or to a large audience in a conference environment. There are a number of excellent techniques that you can use to reduce your nerves and increase your enjoyment when presenting. Here are four of my favourite techniques for you:

  1. Breathe diaphragmatically
  2. Relax your muscles so that you aren’t holding tension in your body
  3. Focus on your audience
  4. Use the power of your mind

1. Breathe diaphragmatically
Why breathe diaphragmatically?

Breathing is something we take for granted. We think we breathe all the time. Actually, diaphragmatic breathing takes some practice.

How do you breathe diaphragmatically?
The thing to remember when you breathe is this: when you breathe in, your diaphragm should extend up and out. When you breathe out, your diaphragm should retract and move towards your back. It’s like you are breathing right down into your bottom! Try this lying down to ensure you are practicing correctly.

Once you know you are breathing for health, try to do this at least ten conscious times a day. It will eventually become second nature, which means you’ll breathe naturally when you have to present. The idea with breathing when you present, is that to begin with you may have to make it quite a conscious thing for yourself. In other words, you have to make a big effort to breathe deeply and often.

2. Relax your muscles
Why learn to relax?

Relaxing is something that takes lots of practice. Just think about all those millions of Australians who engage in some kind of meditation, yoga or massage to try and wind down. Those of you who present a lot probably can’t go off for a massage the hour before every client pitch, presentation or meeting.

How do you relax before a presentation?
So what can you do to help yourself? Try to ascertain where you hold your tension. Maybe your shoulders? Neck? Face? Many people tend to hold tension in the buttock area. Once you’ve isolated the problem area, try tensing and relaxing the muscles associated with that area twice each. Do this just before you present – you’ll be amazed at the difference.

3. Focus on your audience
Why would you focus on your audience?
Truth be known, it is actually quite difficult to focus fully on your audience. Even some of the greatest public speakers don’t do it very well. Once you work out how to do it – it will ensure you are an engaging, connected, charismatic presenter every time. Sound good? Sound worth it? If you want to reduce your own nerves and really connect with the people in your audience – this is the technique for you!

How do you focus on your audience?
When you feel nervous, I recommend you try really hard to keep reminding yourself that the presentation is not about you, it’s all about your audience. If you can do what you can to focus your attention on how your audience is feeling and what they need to hear from you, immediately your nerves will begin to dissipate. This is because you have less space in your brain for analysing your own consciousness. In other words, I suggest you try to become more focused on your audience and you will be less preoccupied with yourself. To focus fully on your audience try the following steps:

  1. Claim your space confidently and charismatically.
  2. Imagine there is a ‘bubble’ around you and your audience.
  3. Throw your attention out into the bubble.
  4. Connect through ‘whites of the eyes’ eye contact. In other words, really ‘see’ the person or people you are speaking with.

If you are fully focusing on your audience then you won’t feel as nervous – this is because you won’t be aware of feeling anything. If you are focused on yourself, you’ll be aware of your nervousness.

4. Use the power of your mind
Why use the power of your mind?
Many of the best presenters use the power of positive thinking before they present. If you learn how to harness your potential then you’ll feel a lot more confident and will achieve amazing results in your presentations.

How do you use the power of your mind?
Imagine you are a successful, confident, engaging presenter. Be aware of all the positive characteristics in your personality and display them as you present. (Please note you should not let this technique change you into something that you are not. Rather, it should help to bring out an inherent quality that you believe you are not displaying). Some examples include: a tall guy who projected an image of a gentle giant before presenting. A woman I know thinks of the warm rays of the sun and instantly feels the ‘warmth’ in her personality coming through. Another presenter watches Jim Carey movies before an event and he believes this brings out his ability to be entertaining. Next time you have to present, consider spending a minute focusing on your personality traits that make you feel confident and terrific about yourself.

Each of these techniques combined will help you feel more confident and ready for your presentation. Do these things and you will stand out – head and shoulders above your colleagues and competitors! Happy Presenting!

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Michelle Bowden

Michelle Bowden is Australia's expert on presenting persuasively in business. She's a best-selling, internationally published author of How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting your ideas and influencing people using techniques that actually work. For more information visit