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‹ View all articles 15th January 2013

The Grand Catastrophe: Presentation Nerves

Nerves and Confidence

One of the most common causes of presentation nerves is a psychological phenomenon known as 'catastrophizing'. This is the tendency to make little worries bigger than they truly are. Catastrophizing makes mountains out of molehills and mice out of men (and women); and our presentation nerves can explode in a cataclysm of calamity. But what is catastrophizing and how can we overcome it to help reduce those presentation nerves?

How catastrophizing causes presentation nerves

In public speaking terms, catastrophizing shows up as:

  1. Exaggerating the possible danger of screwing up your public speaking and;
  2. Overemphasizing the likelihood of that danger coming to pass during your speaking.

If you're catastrophizing, you might notice sneaky thoughts underneath your presentation nerves, like:

    • "I'm going to screw up"
    • "They'll all think I'm stupid"
    • “The ceiling will fall in” (Hey, it could happen)
    • “I’ll lose my job”
    • “Everyone will hate me”
    • "My whole industry will know I'm an idiot"

These are allthoughs I've heard from clients! Before we even step on stage, our nerves have been keyed up because we're focusing on all of the things that might go wrong, as if they've already happened.

What you thought was true...

Once we've spoken, the catastrophizing tendency will often try to convince you you did much worse that we really did and can validate your public speaking nerves as a ‘legitimate fear’. It's a favourite delusion of many speakers who desperately strive for perfection in the spotlight. Yet, ahem, a little perspective please! It’s rarely as bad as you imagine:

  • What my nerves say: “I was blushing like crazy and everyone was looking at me wondering if I was about to explode. It was terrible.”
  • Reality for the audience: “Yes, it was a little bit hot in the room.”
  • What my nerves say: “I was so nervous I forgot everything I wanted to say, there were these big awkward moments where I had to look through my notes to find my place. It was terrible.”
  • Reality for the audience: “Good speech, I liked it.”
  • What my nerves say: “The powerpoint went wrong, the computer crashed and I couldn’t use my presentation at all. It was terrible.”
  • Reality for the audience: “I really enjoyed the speaker’s stories, it was much more like a conversation than a presentation… very natural.”
  • What my nerves say: “I put on the wrong slides, then I spilt my water, then the cat escaped from the previous presenter and everything was completely crazy. It was terrible Reality for the audience: “Oh yes, there was that funny bit at the beginning with the cat. The speaker did really well though. If that had been me I think I would have died...”

Things are almost always much worse in our head than in reality because we're under the influence of our presentation nerves.

How to calm those presentation nerves

When it comes down to it, catastrophizing is a sign that you're trying to over-control the process of public speaking. If you rely on everything going 'exactly as planned', then the minute something goes wrong it will be seen as a grand catastrophe.

What we really need to get over presentation nerves is to stop taking ourselves and our public speaking so seriously. After all, what's the worst that can really, honestly happen?Say your nerves do take over, say you do screw your presentation up, say you do get a few rolling eyes in the back of the room... so what?

Your professional reputation has probably survived worst in the past! So don't imagine that one little slip is going to cause your whole house of cards to come tumbling down.

Relax. Because when you enjoy yourself, you are less tense. When you are less tense, you make less mistakes. When you make less mistakes there's less chance that your presentation nerves will take control.

When you relax, you will also see that there are people in your talk who are enjoying what you have to say, even if 5% of the room are disinterested. Soothe presentation nerves with truth. The sky is not falling. Promise.

 

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