Why A Successful Presentation Is All In Your Mind

Apr 19, 2023 4 Min Read
3D render of a nervous man standing on a stage, with a dark blue background, speaking in front of a crowd, digital art
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Digital art is from DALL.E #dalle

Mastering Your Mindset for Presentations: How to Overcome Fear and Nervousness

No matter how established you are, the thought of standing at the front of the room to speak to your colleagues or clients is enough to drive even the most hardened professional to reconsider their life choices. The fear, the nervousness, the excitement. What if something goes wrong? What if it goes right!

It’s All About the Fear Factor

Having taught presentation skills to the corporate market for the last 20 years, one of the most common questions people come up with is, how do they get their mindset right so they can handle the stress and lead the room.

The first fear that most people have is based around knowledge. This is expressed as something like, ‘I’m alright with public speaking as long as I know the topic’. My internal reply to that is always, ‘Well der-Fred! If I didn’t know what I was going to speak about then I’d be nervous too!’. If you don’t know your topic, you’re going to be nervous. If you don’t know your topic you should be nervous. If you don’t know your topic - please don’t speak.

It was Confucius who said, 

Only speak if you are going to improve on the silence already in the room.

Confucius: Revered philosopher I Image from DALL.E #dalle

When you consider how rare silence is in our world today, this 2,500 year old advice is pretty good.

The second comment people make is that they are OK once they get started, but the first few minutes kill them. This kind of makes sense. People imagine all sorts of things that could go wrong only to find that most of them don’t. As the fifteenth century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote,

 My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.

As fun as quoting Confucius and Montaigne clearly is, there are other ways to get your head right for a big presentation. The secret to getting your mindset sorted for your next presentation lies not in your head, but in your body.

Read More: 

How I Conquered My Fear Of Public Speaking

6 Key Steps to Overcome Fear in the C-Suite

Pay Attention to Sensations

Regardless of your attitude to presenting, every time you think of it, there will be a physical sensation in your body. The secret to having a great mindset around presenting is how you react to the sensations.

Those who don’t like presenting react to the sensations by labelling them as butterflies, nervousness, anxiety or something similar. They use this to generate stories such as why they will stuff up, why they are not good enough or something else. Those who like presenting, label the sensations as something like excitement, energising or similar. They then tell themselves a story about why they are good at presenting.

Contrary to what pop psychology will tell you, having a good mindset is not about trying to reshape the story you tell yourself from not liking it to liking it. This is simply replacing one made up story with another.

Having spent 20 years training presentation skills around Australia and the world I have seen that the best way to react to those energetic sensations - be they undesirable or desirable - is to not react - simply observe. Just observe the sensation and experience them in your body. When you pay close attention to the sensations a remarkable thing happens - they fade. When they fade, they won’t affect you. 

The beauty of this technique is that, in addition to being effective, it can also be used in advance if you are worried about giving a presentation to make sure everything will go smoothly.

Don’t React

The process of not reacting is about observing and nothing else. Unfortunately, most of us make this harder than it should be. Below are the simple steps to help you not react.

  1. At any time before presenting (perhaps hours or days before - or just as you are about to go on stage) think of your presentation. This might be what is needed to prepare, to know what it will be like standing up at the front of the room speaking to the audience. 
  2. Notice any sensations you feel in your body. Pay close attention to them.
  3. Apply the 6 Don’t’s - don’t label them (I’m feeling nervous); don’t justify them (it is a big presentation, I should be nervous); don’t explain them (I’ve always been a nervous speaker); don’t suppress them (feel the fear and do it anyway); don’t own them (I always feel nervous when I present); and finally don’t fight it - just let it come up. Just experience the sensations as they happen.
  4. Stay with the sensations until they subside.

Discover: Do You React or Respond?

Parting Words

There are no right or wrong sensations that you should experience when you come to present. What you are experiencing at this time is simply a culmination of all you have experienced about presenting. When you simply observe the sensations, you can feel them dissipate and eventually disappear. When they disappear, they won’t be there to bother you again. This then creates a mastered mindset that can enable you to deliver a great presentation.

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Edited by: Kiran Tuljaram

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Darren Fleming is an expert on mastering your mindset. He is a speaker, trainer and mentor to senior leaders wanting to master their mindset. His latest book Mindset Mastery - Do Less. Achieve More is out now. Get a sample chapter here

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