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So, I have to give presentations in school, and of course the number of those presentations is just going to increase (I'm just entering highschool).

I'm a classic nerd and my social skills are...well...um...not too great. I can talk to my friends just fine, but when I talk to people I don't know too well, especially ones I'm going to see tomorrow if I completely bomb, is not my cup of tea. Giving a presentation of any sort is also not my forte.

I get very obviously red-faced, I have trouble speaking loudly enough, my palms are sweaty as all get out, and my hands make their way into my pockets. And I stumble through, messing up my sentences. It's not great. And the more mistakes I catch myself making, the more embarrassed I get, and the worse it gets.

How can I calm myself down as I'm speaking?

closed as off-topic by curiousdannii, Anne Daunted, Astralbee, baldPrussian, Arwen Undómiel Nov 21 '17 at 8:14

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about interpersonal skills, within the scope defined in the help center." – curiousdannii, Anne Daunted, Astralbee, Arwen Undómiel
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    @John, believe me, I do. I don't put tons of text on slides, I add pictures, I write them more as "speaker's notes" (to summarize the points I need to make), I practice making the presentation to my bedroom wall. And then the day comes and it's terrible. – heather Jul 31 '17 at 0:06
  • The first thing is to note that you're not alone. As this question is about a highschool context it's off-topic at academia.se, but this search for tag:presentation+calm there (or substitute "nerves") indicates that this is a common problem. You may find some of the answers there helpful. It's good to tackle this at an early stage – Chris H Jul 31 '17 at 12:21
  • Many of the answers posted are super helpful. They offer great tips and pieces of advice on how to overcome performance anxiety and stage fright. So, the bounty is my way of saying "Thank you" to everyone. And hopefully, attract the attention of users to this page. – user3114 Oct 3 '17 at 7:57
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about public speaking, not relating to other people – baldPrussian Nov 21 '17 at 2:09

15 Answers 15

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I too am a verified geek. I even went through high school with a briefcase and pocket protector. To compound the problem my family moved very frequently (attended 13 public schools, from 21 addresses, in the 12 years from 1st to 12th grade). Consequently I seldom even bothered to try making friends. Giving presentations on any subject other than computers was the nightmare to be avoided at all costs. As you have deduced, in high school that option just will not be viable.

At one school (junior high in my case) I had an instructor who recognized my predicament and suggested that I give the school's Toastmasters club a try. It was the mathematics teacher, who also taught some computer classes, which I wasn't able to take. If it had been an English instructor or almost any other subject I probably wouldn't have even paid attention, let alone consider it. As a fellow nerd I did give his suggestion some thought and decided it couldn't hurt. The club met at a time that didn't interfere with my computer access window, so it was spare time anyway.

Glad I am that I did go there. That was the most fruitful semester I've ever connected with any school, and it was an extra curricular activity, not even a class.

The biggest part of what you can learn from them is how to gain confidence in speaking. The members of the club may, or may not, become friends in some fashion, but a friend or not, they will not hesitate to call you out for doing things you shouldn't when speaking. At the same time, they will support you and encourage you, giving advice useful to you because they will see you as you are now, and can help you get to where you want to be. And with your likely career path, speaking is probably going to be a significant part of your professional life.

A couple, possibly helpful, pointers for immediate use, with or without Toastmasters. Learn the material that you are going to present well enough that you don't need notes to give the lecture. That's not the same as memorizing the speech, however, it's truly knowing the material. Your note cards are the plan for the presentation, not the text of the presentation. You can write the speech, in several drafts if you wish, using the skills you probably learned for writing essays in English. That will help you focus on what you know, and what you need to learn, to present the material properly. It also helps to organize the material in a manner that is proper for a presentation rather than an informal chat with a group of friends. (you know, the 3-part plan: tell them what you will tell them; tell them what you said you would tell them; tell them what you told them.)

Now that you've researched the subject properly, planned the speech, and done all the prep work, including the audio/visual aides, you are technically ready for the presentation. Most of that is likely close to what you would do anyway. Maybe more explicit, but not unique. However, it forms the groundwork for dealing with the real problem you've expressed. Having done all the research, you now know more than anyone else, except possibly the instructor, about that subject. Anyone who pays attention to your presentation will learn something they didn't already know. You are now the expert, and as the expert, you have the authority to speak. You cannot require that they listen, but you will know it is their loss, not yours, if they don't.

None of this means that you may not still be nervous, you may always be nervous when giving a presentation. Even once you are five times your current age. That is acceptable. The audience will not care that you are nervous once they realize that you know what you are talking about. Also, once you get started with the presentation, you will also forget that you are nervous. Instead, you will be focused on the material, and your nervous behaviors will become less, and bother you less. You cannot reliably fake confidence any more that you can reliably fake knowledge, so don't try to do either. Get the knowledge and have confidence in the facts, and then you just become the delivery system for the information.

Ok, enough rambling. Seriously, get in a Toastmasters club, somewhere, and you'll never regret it.

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    What is a toastmaster? I consider myself decent at making toast, but maybe not a master. – kingfrito_5005 Oct 4 '17 at 20:34
  • @kingfrito_5005 Toastmasters is an oganization that helps people learn to be better public speakers. That's toast as in a toast to the bride & groom, not as in reheated bread. Find a club on their website at toastmasters.org/find-a-club – Witan ap Danu Oct 4 '17 at 22:42
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On top of other answers that give great advice like practice/rehearse in front of friends, here's what I started doing when I had to talk in front of people...

When I first had to give a presentation in front of people, I wasn't able to rehearse like that. But I was lucky enough to be in a half-darkened room because of the use of a video projector. If this happens to you, as you mention slides and pictures, I think you can use the old trick some actors use on stage :

Look at the light of the beam, and focus on it while speaking.

This way, people in front of you see that you look straight ahead. This also helps you in the way that you don't catch one's eyes staring at you (or feeling so, which makes you feel very uncomfortable...)

If there's no video/pictures that require that lights are down, look as far as you can, to the wall in front of you. You do a presentation for a room, not for a couple of people sitting in the front row, so the ones sitting at the back feel like they get your attention, and you "do the show" for them first.

Put a timer on the desk and look at it once in a while.

This helps you keep each part of the presentation small and sharp. Don't put too much unnecessary emphasis. Keep things simple, and straight to the point, easy to understand.

Move. Don't stand still. Focus on body language too.

I usually start in front of the desk (if any). Then, for each segment of the presentation, I first move left a couple of steps. Explain next part. Move right. Explain next part. And so on...

Have a couple of funny comments that will help release the burden.

And don't bother if people don't say anything while you process, they may be just listening ^^ and keep questions for when you end. Focus on your task, stick to the plan, and not on what they may think about you at the time.

Never forget that stage fright comes along with talent :)

  • Other small helps: 1) Practie and remember how to breathe deeply (not creepy deep, just full breaths) and project your voice a bit. This helps keep the oxygen flowing and relax your muscles a bit, so that your voice and body don't tighten up; body tension is a vicious circle. 2) Have a water bottle available and take a sip if your mouth starts to dry out or your throat gets tight. Same idea, preventing your "lizard brain" from responding to the body's signals of physical discomfort. – brichins Aug 3 '17 at 19:42
4

Get a small group of friends together and rehearse with them as the audience.

Make it as realistic as you can. They should be seated in chairs in front of you, as though they were an audience. You should stand in front of them with whatever notes you will have on The Day. If you will be standing behind a lectern, simulate that with a table.

Above all, you and your friends should be serious. No joking, no giggling. Maybe the mother of one of your friends or an older sister could take the part of the teacher.

This will accomplish two things:

  1. Not only will the material be more familiar, but so will the setting. This dress rehearsal will be very different than practicing in your room or in front of a mirror.

  2. Some of the people you don't want to see the next day if you "bomb" will be definitely on your side. They will see how much this means to you, and whatever the outcome on The Day, will still be on your side.

Note that this does not guarantee that you will be a success on The Day, but it will increase your chances. Nothing guarantees anything. All we can ever do is tilt the probabilities towards success.

Dress rehearsals are always held in the theater. They are the time to find and solve all the glitches.

  • Sorry, but this seems a bit much for a decently common occurrence. If it was a huge speech, yeah, sure, I'd do this, but I'm talking about a run of the mill "present on such-and-such topic" that's due in a couple of days. – heather Jul 31 '17 at 0:29
  • Make it as realistic as possible? Yes, but you will not have access to the screen, projector, tables, notes... so how will it be realistic? I can't speak for the OP, but for personal experience, friends won't always pay attention, and can always be reluctant on providing you with critical feedback depending on who you are, and who the friends are. – Zizouz212 Jul 31 '17 at 0:30
  • @ab2 This is a school we're talking about. It's not practical, and seldom even allowed to use school resources on spares or lunch breaks. I don't see how your answer does any work for the OP. – Zizouz212 Jul 31 '17 at 0:32
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    @Zizouz She could do it in the kitchen of her house. The point is she doesn't do well in front of an audience, and she needs to practice in front of an audience as realistically as possible. Practicing in front of the bedroom wall isn't working. But I am checking out on this. – user1760 Jul 31 '17 at 0:36
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    I wish I could offer you a silver bullet, but I can't. Good luck. – user1760 Jul 31 '17 at 0:58
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I took a public speaking course when I got into high school & it helped immensely. If you don't want to take a class, maybe ask some of the English teachers to assist you on listening to things you present for just 10-12 minutes after school. What that course taught me was how to speak on anything with no preparation. We had an exercise we did daily where different people were on rotation so you were going to speak at least once a week, for 2-5minutes on a topic you were handed as you walked to the front. You got 1 minute to think if needed & then you had to start. I still remember on my first draw I got "pencils". I was not very pleased. Topics like that though helped make the ones I could prepare for seem to much less intimidating and the fact that everyone there was getting these awful topics with no warning was great. It was like we were all in the same terrible predicament and you do end up giving some really stupid funny bad speeches. My one on pencils wasn't exactly amazing.

I do think you could do this without the class though, as I said, with a teacher willing to help you out (and I am betting you have one or two that would be willing to do some coaching). The more you get used to standing at the podium and talking, the easier it gets, even without a full class. A teacher has heard enough speeches too that they can give you some really great feedback as well. I am sure it's likely less stressful than standing in front of social peers, but it is still helpful. When I've given speeches, if it's possible I practice in the location first. Even if there is hardly anyone to hear it, like maybe people setting up, you'd be surprised that you still have that feeling of maybe thinking you sound awful.

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+150

You actually seem to be a very good presenter who understands how to present. You're not creating boring walls of text on PowerPoint - you're using them as aids to supplement your presentation, and not to become the visual focus (which should be done). You have an understanding of various presentation techniques, such as presenter notes as well. I think that is amazing.

I think that you have a lack of confidence.

But don't worry! You're not alone. Presenting in front of a group of people can be very intimidating. I've been a teacher for four years, and it's something that I see fairly often (you might be able to tell that I really challenge my students!). Confidence is one of those things that you have to build over time - through practice, feedback, experience, and the whole loop. Find a debate team or other clubs and societies at your school that gives you exposure to talking. Participate. Develop.


I often try and provide people with various techniques to develop their confidence. Presenting can actually be lots of fun once you get the hang of it! I don't want to focus on the "preparation" stuff - you seem to be doing that already. I want to focus more on techniques while you are presenting and just before (especially since you don't always have a large timeframe). You already know the "know your material," "breathe" and "practice and practice even more" arguments that are told very frequently.

Otherwise, here are a few things:

  1. Distract yourself

    No! That doesn't mean you get a fidget spinner! You need to find a distraction that is for you, and yourself only. Something that you can't ignore, but something that is also hidden. Personally, I like to use one of my nails and "dig" into one of my fingers. Not too much so that it hurts a lot and starts bleeding, but enough so that it's difficult to ignore. That can help distract you from the environment enough to at least help you to calm down. Granted, that's not for everyone, but I'm sure you can find something similar.

  2. Get a buddy in your audience

    Sometimes, you can get nervous because you don't know how you're performing. Find a friend who will be in your audience to give you visual cues as to how you are doing. Are you going too fast? Too slow? Need a second to breathe? Find a friend who can give you hand signals from the audience to give you real-time feedback. Don't forget to reciprocate for your friend if they'd want that as well!

  3. Eliminate the "big thing" from your mind

    If you can start to view presenting as not something where you are lecturing your classmates/audience, but as something where you are instead discussing, like a discussion group or colloquium, you can help calm down since you will start having a more natural conversation. Ask questions and interact with your audience. See what's going on. If you're nervous that nobody will answer, use a different technique, such as asking yourself the question or asking a rhetorical question. If you feel that you are on the same level as your classmates, and you're not doing a "big" thing but rather teaching and learning in your presentation, then you can make it feel like a more natural, normal school day.

  4. Mistakes

    Most of them are just in your head. Your mind is probably in a bit of an overdrive mode and you're being very critical of yourself (also due to a lack of self-confidence). Saying "erm" from time to time isn't always a bad thing - if it happens, it happens. If you say a different word than you intended, make a joke out of it. Brighten everyone up. You're here to engage your audience, so these are perfect moments. No one is expecting you to be perfect, so don't think you have to be.

3

I would recommend a simple guide you would need to practice, which helps from day 1:

  1. What helped me to canalize the nervousness was to hold an item on the hands, it can be a pen or a paper, but this helps so you don't think anymore on what to do with the hands.

  2. You should have enough material for the time you have to talk, when you read the title of the slide, you should know what to tell, but do not expect you will read it the day of the presentation, because it reflects lack of preparation, and is harder to focus when there are long readings. Preparation should be something will give you very much confidence.

    • Learn the basics of a presentation: introduction, content, and farewell (this makes you control when you are going to end), don't worry if you take shorter time than expected, be flexible with yourself, it's harder task for you than any other person, forgive your mistakes, don't blame yourself before/after. Don't surrender, you will improve with practice 100% sure.
    • Having a paper/folio with notes and points you are going to talk about. Even if you don't use it, after all, it may help to dissimulate while you are actually thinking.
  3. Admit openly that you are or will be nervous. Trying to pretend you aren't nervous will emphasize the fact. So I have seen many people starting a presentation saying "I am a little nervous", although it is not necessary, you have to just expect you will be nervous for sure, then you will not think about it when you are nervous and in scene, and you will feel you are starting to control it.

  4. After finishing your first presentation, you should have the desire to have another one, to overcome and control your feelings. This is something you gain with practice. You don't even need to put much of effort, just following small tips that you think will work for you from the things you read to self-help.

In an emergency situation, such if you can't control your body due to stress:

  • You can sit down in a chair, or
  • You can turn the back on your spectators while you talk, looking to the projection, and turning from time to time to look to the spectators (this may degrade very much the score of the assessment).
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    I agree with @OldPadawan on his advices, suh move and don't stay still. :) – another Jul 31 '17 at 9:27
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    I strongly recommend using bold formatting instead of the monospace thing you have currently used. – NVZ Jul 31 '17 at 10:39
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    I cannot disagree with point 3 more strongly. Talking up your own nervousness will not only make you more nervous; it will draw your audience's attention to any signs of nerves you do exhibit. – Jack Aidley Jul 31 '17 at 13:25
  • @Jack I appreciate your comment. I will try to explain my point, what doesn't make untrue your point. I have said if you aren't confident enough, you don't have to tell everybody you are nervous (I personally wouldn't, but I have seen tons of people doing so). What is really important to me, is to be totally aware that is something inherent to the first times you will do a presentation. This works for many people, is a fact. If you do the presentation with determination, you are going to be nervous when the moment arrives, but you'll feel more under control while being nervous. My experience. – another Jul 31 '17 at 14:22
  • What works for one, may not works for another, you must agree with what you read, if it makes sense to you great!, otherwise it may work to you what doesn't work for me (because it may be nonsense to me) – another Jul 31 '17 at 14:23
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All great suggestions above. I am 53, a geek, and I still am challenged by presentations. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Tell yourself you are not nervous, you are excited to present your material. Physically, being nervous and being excited are very similar.
  • Take the time to pause a second or three between sections or after making a point. It seems like an eternity, but it is not. You will be more relaxed and trust me, your audience will be also grateful to have a moment to absorb the material.
  • Find things to love about your presentation. It might be helping your audience, exciting things about the material, or the way you are teaching some of your points. If you are feeing enthusiasm, it is hard to feel fear.
  • Remember, nearly always, the audience is on your side and wants you to succeed. It is rare to have an adversarial audience. Often you are presenting to coworkers or classmates, and while you might have tough questions, you are really on the same team.
  • "That is a great question. I don't know offhand, but I will get back to you with an answer." is your friend.
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At High School, I was totally unconfident at public speaking, getting "F"s (failing grades, not the other kind) in every speech I ever gave, relying on Cue-cards to get me through, and still stumbling, and being literally "booed" off as I'm giving my speech.

I am now able to stand up in any situation, and deliver speeches that have people laughing, crying, and coming up to me afterward wanting to shake my hand, and occasionally asking when I'm going to form a new political party (I am an IT Engineer/Developer, not a politician).

How did I do this? By having a mind shift. I stopped using Cue-Cards. I started looking at the audience. I spoke to one person, then the next. I started speaking confidently, believing in myself, not others.

If you have the benefit of having slides with pictures on them, this is all the Cues you will need. What you will need to do is prepare what you want to deliver, and have enough clues in each slide to trigger the points you want to get through.

Speak from the heart ... if you don't believe in what you are speaking, then don't bother ... your audience will pick up straight away.

For example, the person above mentions getting a topic of "Pencils" ... you could deliver a speech on making pencils, or describe a pencil, but you will never have your heart in pencils, unless your surname is Staedtler. However, you could relate a rather humorous story, from the heart, of an experience you had with writing a love note to the girl in the desk behind you, using a pencil that kept snapping at the wrong moment, and how she rejected it ... something like that.

Just remember, everyone looking at you deliver your speech will be doing the same. They all feel nervous. AND they see you talking every day of the week. What you are doing on stage is EXACTLY what they see you doing every day of the week. The reason they are staring at you is they are listening. You have their attention. They are finally quiet. So DELIVER.

The more you prepare, the easier it gets. Don't write your speech the day before. Do it the week before. Then practice it, reading it at first, then without looking at your notes. Don't worry about being word perfect. Just memorize the points and deliver from the heart.

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How can I calm myself down as I'm speaking?

I shook like crazy in my first speech in junior high and quickly became the butt of all my classmates jokes. It sucked bad. I learned 2 ways to deal with this, which are not easy, but highly effective:

  1. Do something worse on a regular basis. What can you imagine doing publicly that would be worse than public speaking? Do it. This is a brain hack that creates a standard of comparison - you'll worry less about the public speaking because daily you'll be doing something even harder. Remember, your brain only has so much energy to worry; if you've blown all your adrenaline out on another fear, you won't have much left when speaking publicly.
  2. Train. We only rise to the level of our training; that's it. If you rarely speak publicly, you'll be incredibly nervous. Do it as often as you can and watch how it begins to feel normal. Toastmasters is a great suggestion. Try to be the person who answers every question publicly (like in church, school, etc).
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How can I calm myself down as I'm speaking?

Don't.

Actively calming yourself down in a situation like that is what produces the sweat and makes your face red. It is difficult and VERY exhausting. The more you try, the more difficult it becomes.

This might be a bit of an unusual answer, but it is what helped me:

Screw up a presentation on purpose. Make sure it's not an important one for your grade but then come completely underprepared and try to make every mistake you can possibly think of.

You have to make sure you know going in that there will be a couple of laughs and that the teacher is probably gonna want to talk about your performance with you afterwards. Depending on your relationship with that teacher you might tell him/her the truth or not. But it doesn't matter. It's not about them.

It's about you seeing what the worst possible outcome could be, and experiencing it willingly. After that, you will be a lot calmer in those situations as even if you screw up a couple of little things, it will never be as bad as that one was. If it's with the same teacher, he might even see your next one as a great improvement, even if you do screw up here and there ;)

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I find this situation very relatable. It is easy to practice, making pointers for each slide, and prepare in every way possible but when it's time to give the presentation, the heart starts pounding and we become sweaty.

I would suggest you should try to focus more on what you are speaking rather than thinking about calming yourself down. You are just getting caught up in an endless cycle of balancing between your presentation and staying calm and composed. And that is ruining all your efforts.

Also, I would suggest you look into the eyes of the audience, preferably towards people who are more likely to understand your ppt(considering there are some people like that already in the audience) Even if there are none, looking in the eyes will force people to pay attention to you. You'll find some people nodding their heads, or paying close attention to your presentation. Looking at these people during the presentation will boost your confidence a lot.

1

I hope I'm not being redundant when I say focus on breathing. Stress can cause us to forget to breathe or hyperventilate and either will alter the chemistry of the brain. Seeing red is the end result of not breathing.

Carbon monoxide is as important as oxygen to the process. If we don't make use of and then expel the oxygen hydrogen mix that we inspired, our cerebellum will not tell us to take another breath. Breathing is only partially voluntary.

When flustered, do this; breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of eight, exhale for a count of eight and begin again.

Also, be prepared and know your material!

1

You are doing most of the right things but I will nevertheless add my "recipe".

I once read an interview with an actor about stage fright. His take on it was something like "I'm always nervous. If I'm not nervous 5 minutes before a show, not being nervous makes me nervous. It's all about control, not about getting rid of nervousness."

The first thing to remember is that, however, well you prepare, the delivery rarely goes according to your plan. However, the audience rarely knows your plan, so things that look like a stumble to you will not, in general, look like a stumble to the audience. In other words, the audience judges the actual performance based on what they see, whereas you judge your own performance based on your own idealized version of the presentation. As a result, things are rarely as bad as the presenter thinks they are.

Second, admit that delivery is subject to random "disruptions". Maybe a person in the front row will annoy you by playing with a pencil, maybe there will be no chalk for the board, maybe the bulb of the projector will burn. I remember a lecture where I had brought coloured chalk sticks, which all fell on the floor and broke when I leaned over to pick up a piece of paper... in front of 135 students.

While perfect delivery cannot be guaranteed, what you can control is the contents of your presentation. If your handwriting is difficult to read, make slides in standard fonts. Make sure that figures are large and clear to be well understood, etc. You can be forgiven for imperfect delivery, but not for imperfect preparation of the contents.

Remember that less is more: a presentation is good once you have removed from it all that makes it not good.

Third, practice practice practice. Experience shows that speakers tend to get tripped when they think they forgot something and want to ad lib additional material at some point in the presentation. If you have prepared your material well, and have practiced your presentation, you will know that a particular argument will be brought up later and you can avoid wandering too far off-script.

Also, practice gives you confidence about the pace of your delivery. If you have gone through the presentation a few times, you will know that you don't need to rush through to finish in the allotted time.

Friends rarely want to be critical so film yourself. These days you can easily do this with an iPad or a cell phone so you can get an audience perspective of your presentation.

Fourth, stick to the script. This complement the previous point. If you prepared the material well, and are confident about the contents of your presentation, bullet points with complete or partial sentences will keep you on the right path and will prevent you from ad libbing into an unprepared territory.

Fifth, watch some talks at all levels and try to dissect why you like some talks and not others. Focus on the amount and technical level of the material, the speed of the delivery, how "cluttered" is the presentation, and other such factors.

0

A couple of quick hacks are controlled breathing, and stand with your legs apart, about the same width apart as your shoulders.

The latter is known as the 'power pose' and has been used notoriously by politicians in the UK when addressing large crowds: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11937158/Body-language-how-to-look-confident-and-powerful-unlike-George-Osborne.html

Body language research has shown it to be rather effective at reducing nervousness and increasing confidence during public speaking. One of the co-authors of the study has since doubted its effectiveness, but it has worked for me, and it may for you too.

0

For me, something that works is to "disconnect from the presentation" right before it's going to happen. I tend to talk to people around about their expectations, things related to their life, "unfocusing" on the presentation and my expectations.

It helps to break the tension, connect to the audience (making the fear of the unknown go away) and, personally, open myself to be more extroverted and don't feel the agonizing need to be extremely formal.

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