How to calm your nerves before a big presentation: 12 practical, confidence-building tips

First, I confess, I have no magic bullets. Calming your nerves before a presentation is not about one ‘quick fix’, it’s about getting all the little things right.   

How to calm your nerves before a presentation

Here are my 12 quick tips to calm your nerves before a presentation.

1. Keep the presentation structure simple

The best presentation structure is a simple one. It allows the audience to stay fully focused on what you have to say. Another huge benefit is that it gives you confidence and a much greater sense of control.

Don’t have a ‘laundry list’ of content. As you develop your presentation, apply our simple, powerful presentation structure. You’ll already be ahead.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Practice in the location that you’ll be giving the presentation. If this is possible, it really helps. Book the room ahead of time, and practice. If not, book a similar room. If all else fails, lock yourself in the bathroom and practice in front of a mirror!

And if it’s a virtual presentation, practice in front of your laptop. Even better, open a virtual meeting (just for yourself) and record your practice. Review, practice, review, practice.

3. It’s a wrap!

Memorize your opening lines, and your closing lines. This will ensure that you also finish strongly, rather than just drifting to an ending.

4. Drink, (not coffee!)

Help your body prep, as well as your mind. Make sure you’re hydrated. Avoid coffee. Ideally, get a good night’s sleep too.

Basically, help your body help you!

5. Take a breath

Nerves bring rapid, shallow breathing. It’s the adrenalin at work in your body. You can overcome this with a deliberate ‘relaxation response’ to bring yourself back under control.

Make a conscious effort to slightly slow your breathing for a few minutes to regain control.

6. Cut yourself some slack

I used to get anxious about being anxious. My mental conversation would go something like this:

I’m anxious. Why am I anxious! I’m good at this, experienced, I know my stuff. WHY AM I ANXIOUS?! Damn. Stupid, stupid, stupid! #$%*@!

Naturally, that didn’t help too much. Cut yourself some slack. Recognize that it’s natural to be nervous, your adrenalin is natural and it’s making you sharp, helping you hit peak performance.

7. Roll away the nerves

Tension often accumulates in your shoulders. Take a moment to slowly roll your shoulders, 5-10 times, in both directions. It will help you dissipate the tension. (Feel free to visit the bathroom to do this, if you’d prefer!).

This Harvard Medical School article provides additional techniques to trigger a ‘relaxation response’ and learn how to your calm nerves before a presentation.

8. Ready, get set, chat

This is surprisingly powerful. Make sure you’re ready to present, in the meeting room (virtual or real), 5-10 minutes early.

Inevitably there will be some people arriving earlier than others. Take the time to chat with them. It will help you connect and relax.  

9. Anchor yourself with a strong posture

Your feet should be flat on the floor, a little apart, weight evenly distributed. This will give you a strong core and ensure that you don’t fidget or sway.

Rest your hands by your side. If that feels unnatural, then cup your hands together loosely in front of you. Resist the temptation to grip your hands together, twist them together, or fidget with your fingers. Practice a natural, relaxed resting position.

The same principles apply in a virtual world. When sitting you should have your feet flat on the ground, a strong central core. Hands relaxed and ready to gesture.

With a natural, confident posture, think of this as your ‘launch pad’.

10. Channel your nervous energy into enthusiasm

You know the phrase ‘nervous energy’, right? Use that energy. Use it in the right way.

The wrong way to use nervous energy:

  • Wringing your hands
  • Flapping or distracting movement
  • Talking too fast

The right way to use nervous energy:

  • Smile
  • Use strong, purposeful gestures
  • Modulate your voice
  • Bring your enthusiasm

Learning how to channel your energy will allow you to calm your nerves by using them positively or you own benefit.  

11. “Any questions?”

The fear of public speaking effects 73% of the US population (according to the National Institute of Mental Health). And I’m willing to bet that the fear of answering questions after a presentation is even higher.  

Mastering the art of confident Q&As is one more way to learn how to calm your nerves before a presentation, and one more reason to feel calm and confident!

12. Embrace your inner ‘Superman’

If you’re still feeling like an impostor, take a look at this video from Amy Cudy. Grab a coffee first, it’s a long video (21 mins), but it’s well worth the time:

Calming your nerves before a presentation: in summary

Here are the 12 tips in summary:

  1. Keep the presentation structure simple
  2. Practice, practice, practice
  3. Memorize your opening and closing lines
  4. Make sure you’re hydrated and well rested
  5. Slow your breathing, it will trigger a relaxation response
  6. Cut yourself some slack, nerves are natural
  7. Roll your shoulders, slowly, to reduce the tension
  8. Get ready early, chat before the presentation starts
  9. Anchor yourself with a strong posture
  10. Channel your nervous energy into enthusiasm
  11. Master the art of confident Q&As
  12. Embrace your inner ‘Superman’

Apply these tips and enjoy learning how to calm your nerves before a presentation!

Take the next step

Learn to become a great presenter with these effective presentation skills.