A Bundle o’ Nerves
December 1, 2014
Dear Writing Diary,
The end is near! No, not the end of the world. At the moment, that doesn’t sound nearly as scary as the end of which I’m writing. You see, the end of the semester is near, and judging by the slight twitching of my right eye, my body is already feeling the stress of final projects and exams. All semester my ENG 1000 teacher mentioned our final presentations, and in the blink of a twitching eye, this feared assignment has moved from the distant future to the frightening present.
If you can’t tell, I’m terrified of speaking in front of my whole class. While I’m not afraid of showing up unprepared or naked like the nightmares of so many students before me, I still fill with jitters at the very thought of delivering a 10-minute presentation to an audience of folks I hardly know. I’ve done all my research, drafting, and revisions, yet this teacher of mine still has to punish me with a presentation. I don’t really have a question in particular, but I’m counting on you for some serious HELP! How can I not only deliver an effective final presentation, but also calm my nerves a bit? Any tips you have to offer would be much appreciated, writing pal.
A Bundle of Nerves
Hi there, Bundle o’ Nerves!
A few years ago, I was in your exact position, despite completing all the necessary preparations for this presentation. I was still battling a stomach full of butterflies and a head full of doubt before delivering my presentation. My fall into the depths of presentation anxiety was interrupted when a trusted friend walked into the room and noticed how nervous I was. She gave me a knowing look and simply stated, “Those nerves are the evidence of your investment; they mean you care. Really, you shouldn’t be worried because you feel nervous; you should be worried when those nerves disappear.” Luckily, I was able to quiet the thumping of my anxious heart to hear and absorb her words, and I realized she was right. I had done all the work needed to prepare for this talk, including constructing effective visual aids and citing all outside information, so my nerves were actually pre-presentation adrenaline.
I tell this story, because one of the first and most important steps in calming your presentation nerves is being realistic about anxiety. You cannot expect yourself not to have any worries or concerns before a presentation. When you feel the jitters, ask yourself if you are really and truly prepared and answer honestly. If you’ve truly completed a thorough process of developing your presentation, then you’re feeling nervous because you care about being an effective presenter who impacts an audience. This kind of nerve bundle can actually be quite helpful, as it can be energizing for the moment when all eyes are on you. You must keep them under control, though, and reminding yourself of your hard work and identifying the presentation’s most influential sections as a brief review can help you chill out during these final moments.
If you ask yourself if you’re really ready to stand before an audience and your head and heart reply with a startling no, then perhaps the only way to reduce your anxiety is to continue working on your presentation. All the confidence in the world cannot make-up for a lack of research or knowledge about a topic. One important concept to keep in mind is that a strong presentation is much like a strong written text – so many of the same skills you use when writing a research paper will also be used in constructing an oral and visual presentation. Below, are some specific steps and tips to keep in mind as you develop a plan for your presentation and think about delivering it before an audience.
The Master Plan
- Define your rhetorical situation: Who are you as the speaker? What is your purpose? Who is your audience? What do you know about this group? In what context will this presentation be given?
- Gather information: Determine both what you need to know and what you want to share with your audience.
- Select the right medium: Choose the best medium (PowerPoint, speech, Prezi, handouts, poster board, etc.) for delivering your message and meeting your audience’s needs.
- Organize your information: Organization is vital for influencing any audience, and a presentation’s audience is no different. Remember to identify your central argument or claim and work to clearly communicate and support it throughout your presentation. Keeping track of all your sources will help keep you organized in the planning period.
The Write Way
- Adapt to your audience: Think about not only the people who will be listening but also the space in which you will be speaking; then, let this information influence your construction of your speech and other materials. Plan on establishing your own credibility early.
- Compose your presentation: Outlining your presentation is extremely helpful, and you should use a form that makes sense to you. Once you’ve got a solid outline, add as much detail as possible. You’ll also want to grab your audience with an interesting opening and signal the end with a thoughtful conclusion. Don’t forget to accurately and appropriately cite all information from outside sources.
Ready, Set, Present!
- Revise your message: One draft doesn’t cut it in writing a research paper, so it won’t cut it here either. Be sure to follow a process (probably similar to your writing process) that allows time for revision and editing, include any material you will be handing out or projecting. Keep in mind that slides should introduce material, not cover it.
- Master your delivery: Practice, practice, practice! If you are using any technology, it is vital that you practice your presentation with these technological features. Reviewing your material can help reduce your nerves, as knowledge breeds confidence. Lastly, be aware of your body and voice. Be sure you are loud enough for all to hear and visible for all audience members to see you; also, try to keep distracting behaviors to a minimum (e.g., fidgeting with your clothes or playing with your hair).
I hope these tips help! Write me here again if you have other questions or concerns.
Break a leg!