Big Presentation? No Sweat

By Heather Baldwin

If you think sometimes that you’re the only one who gets quaking-in-your-boots nervous before a major presentation, just remember what Mark Twain once said: there are two kinds of speakers – those who are nervous and those who are liars. So everyone gets nervous, especially when a multimillion-dollar contract is at stake, but there are several things you can do to control those nerves so they don’t get in the way of a winning performance, says Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, president of High Impact Presentations in Scottsdale, AZ.

First, she says, keep in mind that multimillion-dollar contracts don’t rest on one performance. Those kinds of decisions are based on relationships built long before your presentation. “If your PowerPoint slides die and you lose your place, you’re still as much in the game as anyone else as long as people in that room like and trust you,” says Hershkowitz-Coore. So control your nervousness by reminding yourself that the big presentation is just one piece in a long process.

Next, stop focusing on yourself. “Presenters are so self-centered,” says Hershkowitz-Coore. “We think everyone is watching us, looking at us and making sure everything about us is perfect. That’s not true. We’re only the medium.” In other words, the audience isn’t nearly as concerned with the messenger as they are with the message. So make a final check in the mirror, then forget about yourself and focus on the audience.

Third, have back-ups in place so you don’t have to worry about the failure of technology or electricity. Hershkowitz-Coore uses PowerPoint slides, but keeps a hard-copy printout of those slides in front of her. If PowerPoint crashes mid-sentence, “I’m not going to fiddle with it. I’ll simply close my computer, hopefully say something clever and shift to my worksheets,” she says. Most audiences appreciate the move, she says, because you’ve demonstrated preparedness and respect for them by having a ready back-up. And presenters can rest easy knowing they’re prepared for any technological meltdown.

Finally, get rid of negative conversations in your head. Replace thoughts like, “I’m not ready” or “I’m going to forget” with positive thinking. Although she has made over 2,000 presentations, Hershkowitz-Coore still spends the day of a speech telling herself, “This is going to be my best presentation ever. I’m going to make a difference in someone’s life today.” Focus on the positive, she says, and you’ll find yourself feeling more confident and enthused.