Calm Down: You’re Just Presenting…

November 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm 8 comments

By Matthew Laurino

… to a bunch of people, and none of them are listening, and they’re all wondering why you’re sweating so much, and you wore the wrong tie today. Stop. Didn’t I just say, “Calm down”?

The great thing about your pulse is that the audience can’t take it from looking at you. Take a deep breath, look composed, and slow your speech down. Being in front of an audience is nerve-wracking, but you can still get through your presentation smoothly.

Let’s go over the main exercises that will help you appear comfortable and confident when presenting to an audience.

1)    Put your hands by your sides: This presentation tip has always been the hardest for me to utilize. The first time I gave an impromptu speech, I was rubbing my stomach with one hand as I flailed the other around the room with no attention to emphasis. My gestures were so distracting that when I looked at the recording of the presentation, even I couldn’t pay attention to the content of my speech.

Keeping your hands by your sides allows you to then use your hands to emphasize speaking points. Trust me, you don’t look nearly as awkward as you feel when your hands are resting at your sides. All-American debater, Isaac Castillo, once wrote, “Your hands can be a complement to your words in many ways, but if you have too much going on with your hands you can distract your audience.” When you limit how often you use your hands, you’ll make a stronger impact when you do use them.

2)    Stop fidgeting and move with purpose: Nervous pacing will distract your audience and alert them that the environment intimidates you. Standing in one place the entire presentation will lull your audience to sleep. Movement is about finding a happy medium.

You don’t want to rock back and forth because that makes you appear weak and unsure of what you are saying. Moving confidently towards your audience and engaging them will make your presentation more conversational and comfortable.

3)    Make consistent eye contact: Your eye contact should be for the same amount of time with each member of the audience. Jumping from one person to the next too quickly will make you seem anxious. You should hold 2-3 seconds of eye contact with an audience member before moving on to 2-3 seconds with the next person. Another good tip is to hold the eye contact with an audience member until you can determine his or her eye color. This consistent movement of your eyes also helps you set a conversational tone in your presentation, while making you seem calm and confident.

4)    Slow your speech down: Many presenters who are beginners rush through their presentations because of nerves. Slowing down the pace of your presentation will help you seem more confident and provide you with silence to emphasize your talking points.

While you slow down, be careful not to fall into a pattern of monotony. A monotone voice may make you seem more disinterested than nervous. You want to slow down your speech but still use volume, pitch, and tone for emphasis on certain ideas.

5)    Treat your speech like any written communication: By this, I mean:

  • Create an outline that runs parallel to any PowerPoint slides or presentation materials you have.
  • Revise your presentation to say exactly what you mean.
  • Practice and read through your presentation to become comfortable with your main points.

All of these tips will allow you to appear more calm and comfortable when presenting to an audience. Jerry Seinfeld once said about being on stage, “You’re never really comfortable. Even though you may think you are… you really aren’t.” If he can’t be entirely comfortable presenting to an audience, well, then maybe it is just all about appearances.



Entry filed under: Speaking in Business.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Zel  |  November 29, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing your idea about presentation and they are very useful. I usually have problems with direct eye contact because of some cultural reasons and now I am getting better. The very thing I want to share with you is that being confident and practice as much as I can makes me do not afraid of eye contacts anymore.

  • 2. Will Heyward  |  November 30, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Excellent article! If students (myself included) keep the points mentioned above in mind during presentations, they can cut down on a lot of their common errors. I know I struggle with proper use of hands and how to manage eye contact. I think a lot of benefit can be derived from your final point– when I started creating outlines, it became so much easier to organize my presentation in my mind and keep track of what I wanted to say. How do you feel about students making full scripts for their presentations and memorizing those?

  • 3. Kameron  |  December 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I am one to be fully prepared for a presentation, but have confidence problems from how nervous I become before any presentation. Before a presentation, I often find myself thinking of ways of how I could get out of presenting, for example, saying I’m sick or fainting. Somehow I always manage to get past those thoughts and my nerves and put on the great presentation I have been preparing for. After every presentation, I ask myself why I always get so nervous before. However, those nerves never fail to creep back up with the next presentation, but maybe they won’t be as bad since I am planning on using all of your points in my next one!

  • 4. Robert Register  |  December 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks for the article the tips you provided are all very beneficial for presenting in front of an audience. I definitely agree with what you said about hand-gestures, and how it is easy to be distracting with your hands without even realizing it. Like you mentioned, practicing is really the only way to improve upon presentation skills and to become more comfortable in front of people. Seeing myself on camera throughout the semester was also very beneficial. Good job on the blog post.

  • 5. Ryan McAnallen  |  December 3, 2013 at 12:55 am

    Very nice article. Great to see your progression as the semester went on! Your points are simple but really hit home for students looking to perfect their public speaking. I often find myself so focused on what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it that I forget to maintain good posture, use my hands effectively, keep good eye-contact, and simply appear confident! Even if you don’t feel confident, at least appear to know what you’re talking about. Speaking comfortably in front of a crowd is a rare quality that is either innate or acquired through practice. However, your pointers can help an awkward public speaker appear confident and composed. To me, it seems that those who try to write an absolute script for their presentation and try to memorize it tend to fall in the most trouble with some of those awkward qualities. However, that’s for another day and another blog post! Nice work, and I’m glad I was able to get to know you this semester.

  • 6. Shyam Gondha  |  December 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Great article! I am one of the thousands of people that suffer from presentation fears. However, I think that I have significantly improved during this semester the business school. The main tips that I have utilized from your blog piece are slowing down and maintaining eye contact. Slowing down allows you to appear knowledgeable about the material. Secondly, maintaining eye contact enables you to engage and interact with your audience. However, I believe the most importance advice is to practice out loud. Practicing out loud stimulates the real experience of the presentation, providing a situation for you to revise and perfect your presentation.

  • 7. Scott Kenney  |  December 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Matt, nice work. I really liked your intro; This exact thought process runs through my mind every time I’m about to present. I thought it was interesting that your post about presentations was almost entirely about body language as opposed to the verbal portion of presentations — I primarily focus my attention on what I’m going to say and sometimes forget that most communication happens non-verbally. Referencing Jerry Seinfeld was a very nice touch, it gave us a well known stage-persona to connect to and reaffirm that everyone struggles with presentations. Interestingly, he essentially paraphrased the “fake it ’til you make it” advice that Dr. Cannon stressed towards the beginning of the year. Being your teammate, I can very confidently say that your presentation skills are better 10 fold and that it was a pleasure to work with you.

  • 8. Laina Womble  |  December 3, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    NIce work! I wish I had read this at the beginning of class! Standing up and talking in front of a room of people can definitely be nerve-racking and has proven one of my biggest challenges at the business school. I really like how you included to not only stop fidgeting, but also to “move with a purpose.” Presenters who are both confident and have excellent posture tend to be much more effective – creating a more receptive audience! Good topic choice.


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