Becoming a Better Student

from University of Guelph:
Managing Nervousness
During Oral Presentations
 
Introduction
Nervousness: Causes and Cures
Choosing a Topic
Preparation
Rehearsal
Performance Strategies
 

 

Introduction

Many students dread giving oral presentations in class, yet sooner or later students in most programs will be obligated to do so. If you perspire at the mere thought of giving a seminar, or even if you are comfortable speaking in front of a group, there are ways and means to improve both the quality of your presentation skills and your comfort with them.

 Although this page addresses only one aspect of presenting, many different skills are involved in a successful oral presentation, and they are all inter-related.

 

Nervousness: Causes and Cures

Some nervousness when speaking in front of a group is not only inevitable, it is also desirable. If it can be controlled, your nervousness can be translated into excitement or enthusiasm, and that makes for a presentation that is exciting and interesting to the audience. Excessive nervousness can not only take away any pleasure that doing the presentation may give you, but it may also have a negative effect on your performance. Reading this overview is an important first step to controlling any negative effect nervousness may have on your performance or your marks.

Choosing a Topic

A judicious choice of topic is equally, if not more important in an oral assignment than in a written one. Your lack of interest or enthusiasm for the topic can not only lead to increased anxiety about your presentation, but will also be apparent to your audience in your voice, expression and gestures. However, if you choose a topic which is fascinating to you, it will be difficult to bore your audience. Most importantly, your involvement with the topic on an intellectual and emotional level will help to focus your attention on the material during the seminar, rather than on your own less than perfect presentation of it.

 

Preparation

Nervousness and fear of presenting can lead to a vicious cycle of procrastination. You put off working on the presentation because of fear of not doing well, yet the longer it is put off, the less time there is to prepare and rehearse, and the more pressure, stress and nervousness increase. Good time planning strategies can provide the preparation time essential for controlling nervousness. If you are confident in your knowledge of the material, and if you've planned enough time for rehearsal, you can face the presentation knowing you've prepared for a successful performance.

 

Rehearsal

You can decrease nervousness by using effective rehearsal strategies. Your performance probably won't improve much without constructive feedback, so reading your presentation in front of a mirror has limited benefits. The better the feedback, the more quickly you'll improve, so consider using Learning Services Peer Helpers rather than your room-mate, and equipment such as tape recorders and video cameras in addition to your bathroom mirror. Time planning is important here too. You must have enough time to feel comfortable with any equipment or props you might use in your presentation, and enough time to develop your personal presentation "style" - the tone and gestures which are natural and effective. The more you rehearse, the more comfortable you'll become, and the less nervous you'll be.

 

Performance Strategies

Regardless of your preparation beforehand, some nervousness is natural and inevitable. One performance strategy is to expect and accept nervousness; rather than trying to stop your knees from shaking, let them shake, but realize that you can go on with your presentation. Musicians, athletes and others who perform in public employ focusing strategies to control performance jitters. If, for example, your thoughts are on your sweating palms instead of on your material and its impact on your audience, then your audience may be attending to your nervousness as well. The strategy is to focus on one aspect of your presentation (for example, conveying your commitment to natural herbicides), rather than evaluating or criticising yourself as you go. If you can occupy your own "inner critic" with something other than evaluating your performance and feeding your nervousness, then you can free your concentration and energy to accomplish what you've set out to do - demonstrate your knowledge, and educate or motivate your audience.
 
Source:
http://www.uoguelph.ca/csrc/learning/mangnerv.htm
Copyright the University of Guelph, 1999-1991.