Presentation Nerves: Making Them Work for You!

Are feelings of abject terror coursing through your body? Do you feel gripped with fear and nerves? Are you experiencing a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, a dry mouth or throat, shortness of breath and a sick feeling in your stomach? Are you unable to think properly, and are beginning to forget everything you had planned to say? If your answer to some of these questions is yes, you may be about to give a presentation!

Well, not only can I take the sting out of your nerves – I can also tell you how to make your nerves work for you – to your advantage!

If you are really short of time you will find the exercises at the bottom of the article particularly useful.

You don’t have ‘nerves’
Right – first up, let’s dispel this notion of nerves. You don’t have ‘nerves’. If you went to a doctor and said “I’ve got nerves”, he would tell you there is no such diagnosis. Nerves are long fibres, or bundles of fibres that transmit messages from your brain to the rest of you body and vice versa. What you are in fact experiencing is simply the effect of extra adrenaline being pumped around your body in response to a threat. This threat is the thought of having to stand up and say something reasonably sensible and coherent in front of a (possibly large) group of people, all of whom are going to be staring at you!

‘Fight or flight’
It’s the age-old fight or flight physiology. The adrenaline surge makes you feel like you want to take flight and run away – but remember; it can also empower you to fight! Your body’s natural booster system can enable you to stand your ground and win the day.

So why is this important? Well, it is important to dispel this idea of nerves, because labelling your symptoms as nerves will only make things worse. Let’s face it, if you simply stand or sit still and say the word ‘nerves’ 5 to 10 times – you will start to feel more nervous. Try it! However, if you realise it is simply adrenaline being released into your system that is making you feel uncomfortable – and that this is a perfectly normal response to stress (it happens to everyone to some degree) – then some of the mystique of this condition is immediately removed.

It gets even better when you realise that some of the symptoms you are experiencing could have another label – excitement! Now you may well be thinking – “why on earth would I be excited about the prospect of giving a presentation.” But, some of the symptoms of excitement are the same as those of nerves, because they’re all caused by adrenaline. So, when you’re experiencing butterflies in your stomach, your heart’s racing, and you’re breathing a little faster – remember that some of those feelings are because you are excited as well as afraid. After all, the opportunity to profile oneself in front of a group of people is both exciting and scary all at the same time.

So, the state of nerves doesn’t even exist. Your feelings are simply a side effect of adrenaline, and this is partly because you are excited about the prospect of giving a presentation – even if you refuse to admit it to yourself!

Using the power
Believe it or not – it now gets even better because the energy you get from an increase in adrenaline production is actually one of your biggest assets. Remember fight or flight. Well, if you choose not to run away, then your body’s autonomic nervous system will provide you with lots of energy so you can stick around and do a great job.

One of the major problems that people face when presenting is a lack of passion and energy. It’s pretty easy to keep your energy levels up for the first 5 to 10 minutes, but after that many people start to ‘drop off’ in their delivery and sink into a monotone speech pattern. Your audience largely depends on you for their ability to be attentive. If your energy levels drop, then your audience is highly likely to lose interest. Anything that will give you extra energy is important to you, so the energy that adrenaline provides is extremely valuable.

An extra boost
It’s a bit like having an on-board battery. But, if you try to suppress the adrenaline you will be wasting that valuable (battery) energy on a fight you won’t win. Trying to get control of your adrenaline is like fighting a tiger. Instead, welcome the free energy source it brings you. If you do this on a regular basis you will find that the more negative symptoms will quickly dissipate, and you will be left with a well of positive adrenaline energy to channel into your presentation. You may not be able to fight the tiger, but you can tame him.

Taming the tiger
What if all that still isn’t working for you? What if the fear is overpowering and you really can’t manage to think clearly enough to channel your adrenaline energy in a positive way. Well here are some simple and practical steps that you can take to reduce any overpowering effects of adrenaline. Firstly, go for a brisk walk (if possible) before you are due to present. This will lessen some of the adrenaline symptoms as the effect of the hormone is used up during physical exercise.

There are two other physical exercises; you can use to calm your body down and lessen your degree of stress, and both are simple and quick.

Exercise 1 – deep breathing
The first is deep breathing; slowly, in through your nose – hold for four seconds – then out through your mouth. Then repeat times two. This may seem too easy and basic to be worthwhile, but the simple practice of deep breathing has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, heart rate and respiration.

Exercise 2 – clench both hands
For the next exercise, first clench both hands into tight fists, then push your arms and hands away from your body. As you push away, open your hands out wide. Again, repeat this a couple of times.

Both of these exercises will make you feel more relaxed almost immediately. And they can be undertaken fairly quickly without attracting too much attention – although for best results they should not be rushed. If you are feeling particularly stressed then you can do these exercises in tandem. Clench your fists as you breath in through your nose, and then extend your arms and hands slowly as you breathe out through your mouth.

Exercise 3 – You can actually choose to feel good
Lastly (believe it not) you can decide on your emotional response to a threat or stressor. Again it takes practice, but it can be done. You can actually choose to feel good or bad about something. If you want to feel good about the whole presentation experience then decide you are going to. It may feel impossible at first because you don’t feel good; and for many of us our emotions are very strong messengers for our mood (i.e. feelings of worry, sadness or fear are so strong that it appears they cannot be changed). But you really can change your emotions by thinking differently. It’s not easy, but it is possible; and it’s a lot less time consuming than visualisation. Take a few deep breaths; then ask yourself, would I rather go through this presentation in a state of panic and terror (and probably do a bad job), or would I rather be calm and have some fun (and perform well)?

After all, whatever you decide you still have to deliver the presentation. So, if you have to do it, why not decide to enjoy it instead of worry about it?

Mick Miller is Director of Power To Present

1. Mori H, Yamamoto H, Kuwashima M, Saito S, Ukai H, Hirao K, Yamauchi M, Umemura S. How does deep breathing affect office blood pressure and pulse rate? Hypertens Res. 2005 Jun;28(6):499-504.
2. Miller KM, Perry PA. Relaxation technique and postoperative pain in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Heart Lung. 1990 Mar;19(2):136-46.


Published On: 12th Feb 2012

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  1. Awesome explanation and advice!

    Damien 19 Aug at 10:32 am
  2. Thanks for the great advice! I just wish you had mentioned something about the dreaded hand shaking. Even when I think I am ok.. my hands still shake.

    anna 30 Sep at 6:55 pm
  3. Thanks for the references! I train people (in much the same way you do ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and I’ve been looking for those for ages!


    Simon Raybould Presentations 5 Oct at 11:47 am
  4. I really think that this excercise helped me!! In fact I even aced my presentation with a 101%, and I even got a few pats on the back, because it was so good!!

    abby dennell 16 Oct at 8:12 pm
  5. I still dont want to.

    Kristin Ramerman 4 Nov at 9:06 pm
  6. Yeah, very good advice. I’d be good if i knew what the hell i was speaking on.

    Griff 20 Nov at 9:37 am
  7. thanks for the advice…its made me feel slightly better…but im still pooping my pants!

    well i thought i was one of a few..but its common from the sound of this page..thanx

    Damian 10 Dec at 1:35 pm
  8. It’ll be a miracle of I could get through that…!!

    Sarah 11 Dec at 5:02 pm
  9. No better way to look professional before a speech than doing the breathing and hand clenching exercises. But, it worked ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much! My “nerves” were calmed.

    linds 12 Dec at 5:19 am
  10. i dont feel nervous before, but as soon as i stand up infront, everything’s gone

    Anonymous 25 Jan at 4:39 pm
  11. man i hope these help before my speech =[
    my face always turns bright red when i have to give speeches…i hate it!

    girl123 29 Jan at 11:50 pm
  12. yes ! you really did good job.

    MOhammed 4 Feb at 3:46 am
  13. I’m even more nervous now (but with a smile on my face) 3 hours to go!!!!

    mike 3 Mar at 7:23 pm
  14. Awesome. I hate going to speak in front EVERYBODY I KNOW. I mean its so ugg….Thanks for the tips. I will be having another stupid speech soon. I’ll practice in front of my mom. I think it is better to say a speech in front of strangers than in front of people you know.

    EvenInDeath 6 Mar at 3:46 am
  15. i have always run and hide at the first mention of having to give a speech, and i can only hope that this will have given me something to remember to keep me from freezing from my “nerves”.

    pumpkin jack 10 Mar at 9:41 pm
  16. Wow… speech really does suck… Shakey legs, quivering voice,… wth is my problem… Third speech of 5 due in 6 days… wish me luck

    Jack Mahogoff 11 Mar at 1:28 am
  17. Speaking it is easy, writing the speech is the HARD PART!

    GoochSniffer 14 Apr at 5:54 am
  18. Thanks so much! I have a friend who needs to see this!! XD

    Maya Tubias 3 May at 3:27 am
  19. Thanks for the tips–I have just started a public speaking class that I have dreaded for over a year! I have panic attacks and my problem is that my heart beats 1000 beats a minute–hopefully your tips work because my first speech is due tommorrow!!!

    Rodney Spady 6 May at 10:41 pm
  20. thank you im 10 and about to do a speech and that has really calmed me down cheers my mates will have to see this

    charlotte 16 May at 4:49 pm
  21. thanks for that i feel a little bit better and I have a presentation tomorrow and I will definitiley use all this tomorrow. I Hope It will work out

    Anonymous 28 May at 4:11 pm
  22. easier said than done

    kukubuttah 6 Jun at 12:18 am
  23. This is a real good thing to know the cause and effect. Now I know whats happening in and how to overcome that, I think I would require some practice to get to the mark. Thanks a lot for the Education.

    Shankar 20 Jun at 9:53 am
  24. Thanks for the help, it should come in handy when saying my presentation! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Anonymous 28 Jul at 8:49 pm
  25. Thanks for suggestion.

    It really works..

    I used to get nervous, Looking at people around, but this tips helped me a lot.

    Now I speak On and On..:-)

    Nadeem 21 Aug at 12:26 am
  26. your valuable explanation solves my puzzle .. hope i will do my best in 2 days time..cheers.

    Ramezh 24 Aug at 10:46 am
  27. cool beans

    megg 4 Sep at 3:39 pm
  28. HI…. thanks for this speech topic… i know it will help me to have a further confidence on doing a speech in front of people…

    JOAN MAE 8 Sep at 6:41 am
  29. dear Mick Miller,
    These information bit and advice is really going to help me tomorrow for my big day. ( For the first time im going to give presentation)
    Very many thanks,

    Shiraj Zubair 11 Sep at 12:10 am
  30. ive got a speech coming up that i have to write over the holidays!!! ive got a week left and havent thought of a topic… i think writing is the hard part!!!!!
    but its helped me alot

    andy 25 Sep at 5:01 am
  31. remember everyone, if you believe u can do it, u can do it, & if u think u can’t, then u really can’t.
    Go U!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (trust yourself)
    p.s always remember, if u r presenting in front of ppl who also have to give speeches, they’re all going through the same thing.

    Anonymous 8 Oct at 5:02 am
  32. wow….. i hope this works!!!! i have a speech in 3 days!!!!!wish me luck!!:)

    abcgummygum 28 Oct at 5:36 am
  33. Wish me luck I’ve been freaking out and doing a crappy job the last several speeches. I fine talking out loud from my seat, but you put me on the spot, standing up, infront of everyone, starring at me, and then force me to remember whatever it is I’m supposed to talk about and I draw blanks, my heart is racing, I’ve had to stop my speech twice because my mouth got so dry I couldn’t talk.

    Danni 12 Nov at 5:01 am
  34. When i read this article, i felt much more nervous than before. If you analyse and talk about nerves, you are getting worse!

    John 20 Nov at 3:41 pm
  35. thanks

    Anonymous 27 Nov at 3:51 pm
  36. I will a presentation during my scholarship exam, where I can go to study abroad at United World College if I pass. I am happy to see how to keep me away from nerves, I will try to that. Thanks very much.

    sokhna 29 Dec at 9:27 am
  37. Many many thanks–I’m giving the toast at my sister’s 50th birthday and although I love her so very much I still have some fear about standing up in front of people and looking like a failure. It’s so easy to tell ourselves lies about our abilities and I’m grateful that this information is available to assault the negativity and help to focus the energy in a positive direction. God Bless

    Gordon 8 Jan at 3:05 pm
  38. Thank you SO much, I don’t know what I would have done without this amazing article….
    I have to give a speech in front of the whole district the day after tomorrow, and this calmed me down a lot.

    Callie 12 Jan at 5:35 am
  39. Wow I’m “speechless” Love the tips! ๐Ÿ™‚

    cottan candy queen 21 Jan at 11:02 pm
  40. I still can’t present in front of my class ๐Ÿ˜‰

    xoxo 28 Jan at 12:12 am
  41. well this is a very beautiful essay i much like it thank you have a wonderful day

    bhatar djarnoo 13 Feb at 3:06 pm
  42. It makes sense in theory….. now I just need to do the speech! I know that if I take it slowly and prepare properly (including use of your tips), then I will be fine.

    Hayley 9 Mar at 11:27 am
  43. Kudos….
    thank you for valuable suggestions.

    Bazzzzee 26 Mar at 12:06 pm
  44. ah im getting nerves readig this!

    bella swan 2 Apr at 5:45 pm
  45. Hey! Thanx so much for the tips… I always thought that I was confident until my first speech! Now I have to pretend to be Cleopatra in front of my class and I kept thinking that my classmates will laugh at me, and now I finally found a way to overcome my nerv- xtra adrenaline…. YES!

    Mimi 10 Apr at 9:14 pm
  46. I think it’s important to have a few nerves before the big event. If a footballer isn’t nervous before a big match, you can almost guarantee his performance will be flat. A real pro is looking to have that first good touch, whether it be a header, a tackle or that defence splitting pass. It’s the same with speaking. Ensure that your opening is well rehearsed and fluent. It will put wind in your speaking sails. All the best – Vince

    vince stevenson 29 Apr at 8:52 pm
  47. I have a speech coming up thats really important! I get really nervous, so hopefully this will help

    SupaNervous 30 Apr at 1:21 am
  48. Great advice!
    Hope itworks!

    Helena 10 May at 11:19 am
  49. !!!dreaded hand shaking. Even when I think I am ok.. my hands still shake.!!! my problem too :((( do you have the solution or the same problem???

    ja.damien 23 Jun at 9:37 pm
  50. Thanks for the information, I’m still afraid, but at least i don’t have a panic attack before my turn. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    PresentationProblems 29 Aug at 6:23 am
  51. im in grade eight and your article really helped thx ๐Ÿ™‚

    cotton candy queen 2 Dec at 1:30 am
  52. thanks a lot ur instructions have made me strong enough 2 face presentations

    nagendra reddy 30 Jun at 10:20 am
  53. Here are a few tips that I have shared with clients over the years:
    1. Remember itโ€™s okay to be nervous: A little bit of adrenalin can give you focus and clarity.
    2. Become familiar with your venue: Find out where youโ€™ll be standing, whether there will be a microphone, and if there will be somewhere to rest your notes. This will avoid nasty surprises that might keep you awake the night before.
    3. Practise, practise, practise! Get to know your speech so well that you only need to glance at your notes to remember what comes next. This also allows you to make eye contact with your audience, giving you reassurance and confidence.
    4. Perfect your posture: Good posture can make you look and feel more confident. It opens up the organs, which in turn oxygenates the brain enabling you to think more quickly on your feet. 5. Trained to the highest level in NLP and hypnotherapy, Michele Paradise specialises in improving public speaking confidence by working on your posture.
    6. Breathe!: It might sound simple, but try some slow deep breathing exercises just before you start speaking. It is amazing the effect they can have almost immediately.

    Daran 15 Jul at 3:39 pm
  54. i never hated presnting when i was younger and im only in highschool but now im not scared about presenting and i feel fine before i present but as soon as i get to the front of the class i start shaking and i can’t do anything to help it and my voice quivers throughout the presentation and my hands shake and i talk way too fast. I’m have a presentation soon and i hope these will help.

    Hatepresenting 3 Nov at 2:09 am
  55. Thnkx 4 the tips… ๐Ÿ™‚

    Shama Ansari 27 Nov at 5:12 pm
  56. It is jst amazing …….!! Thnk u…!!

    Dilshad Ansari 27 Nov at 5:14 pm
  57. Thanks a lot!
    I usually get adrenaline surges during exams-I assumed it would last only a couple of minutes or at most an hour-but it lasted 3 hours! Every time the examiner called out the remaining time for that section I could feel the adrenal glands flooding my bloodstream with adrenaline( you feel a little ticklish around your stomach/abdomen region(as the adrenal glands are placed above the kidneys))
    These procedures along with a good dirt and exercise makes you feel much better.
    Thanks once again!

    Menon 2 Dec at 2:54 pm
  58. Sorry
    Misspelt *diet* not dirt

    Menon 2 Dec at 2:56 pm
  59. Thanks for the tips they relly work

    Anonymous 19 Feb at 4:40 pm
  60. thank you

    hizo 21 Feb at 7:54 pm
  61. I thank you alot your presentation is really helpful .Iadvice beginers to preapar themselves befor presenting a new lesson or project .

    hizo 21 Feb at 8:00 pm
  62. I liked it, I hope it will work out with me tomorrow ๐Ÿ™

    Ed 11 Aug at 2:04 pm