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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Dealing with Nervousness

Dealing with Nervousness

Being nervous before and during a presentation is natural and should be considered a good thing--a little adrenalin often helps you perform better because it sharpens your senses and self-awareness. However, if it is not held in check, nervousness can also undermine your confidence and be a distraction to you and your audience. As a consequence, the audience focuses on you being nervous rather than the content of your presentation.

Keep the following strategies in mind to help control your nervousness:

  1. Be well-prepared. Practice giving your talk more than once. Practice in front of a mirror so you are aware of any unintentional body language [e.g., swaying back and forth; not looking up to engage your audience, etc.] and practice in front of someone whom you trust will provide an honest assessment of your delivery.
  2. Be organized. If you are well organized, your task will be easier. If your overhead slides are out of order, or your notes are disorganized, you are more likely to get flustered and lose focus, and so will your audience.
  3. Remember: The way you perform is the way your audience will feel! Giving an oral presentation is a performance--view yourself as an actor. If you act the part of someone enjoying themselves and feeling confident, you will not only communicate these positive feelings to the audience, you will also feel much better as you proceed with your presentation.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Even the most accomplished public speakers can feel nervous before and during a talk. The skill comes in not expressing your nervousness and in not letting it take over from the presentation. Over time and with repeated practice, you will feel less nervous and be able to control your nervousness more effectively.

Here are some things to consider doing to help ensure that nervousness does not become a problem during your presentation:

  1. Smile! Your audience will react warmly to you if you smile and look relaxed.
  2. Treat your audience like friends. Think of your presentation as a welcomed opportunity to share the research topic with the audience.
  3. Breathe deeply. It will help calm you down and help to control the slight shaking that you might get in your hands and voice.
  4. Bring a water bottle. Constantly sipping water or taking a drink mid-sentence can be a distraction to your audience. However, if you feel yourself getting a dry mouth while speaking and you begin to show it, you'll be glad you have some water on hand. Taking a sip of water also gives you a chance to gather your thoughts and the audience a moment to contemplate what you've stated so far.
  5. Slow down! When people are nervous, they tend to get confused easily. So your mind may start to race, and you may feel panicky. Make use of pauses; force yourself to stop at the end of a sentence, take a breath, and think before you continue.

NOTE:  A possible trigger of nervousness can be an odd or unanticipated question from the audience, particularly if it's asked during your presentation. The question could be unrelated to your talk or it may be an issue that you had never considered. Don't panic in this situation. Answer the question to the best of your ability. If you are unable to provide a suitable answer or it's tangential to the topic, note the importance of the question and invite the audience member to discuss the topic in more detail after you have completed your presentation.

Bailey, Jessica. Extemporaneous Speaking: Engaging with Current Events. Ripon, WI: National Forensic League, 2013; Bodie, Graham D. “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety.” Communication Education 59 (2010): 70-105; Dwyer, Karen Kangas and Marlina M. Davidson. “Is Public Speaking Really More Feared Than Death?” Communication Research Reports 29 (2012): 99-107; Giving an Oral Presentation. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Peoples, Deborah Carter. Guidelines for Oral Presentations. Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries; Nasha, Gregory, Gail Crimminsa, and Florin Oprescua. “If First-Year Students are Afraid of Public Speaking Assessments What can Teachers do to Alleviate such Anxiety?” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 41 (2016): 586-600; Perret, Nellie. Oral Presentations. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Shafer, Sherri. “Building Public Speaking Skills across the Curriculum.” The International Journal of Learning 17 (2010): 279-284.

Speaking Tip

Never Apologize for Being Nervous!

It's natural to be nervous when giving a presentation and members of your audience understand this. Just because you're nervous on the inside, though, doesn't necessarily mean you're showing it on the outside. Most of the time your nervousness is not as pronounced as you think it is, so if you don't say anything, nobody will notice. However, if you apologize, you'll only succeed in calling continuous attention to the fact that you're nervous, and worse yet, apologizing won't help eliminate being nervous. In fact, it may make it worse because-- congratulations!-- now everybody knows you're really nervous! The bottom line is that you should never apologize for being nervous because had you remained silent, your listeners may have never thought that you ever were.

Guidelines for Oral Presentations. Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries.