Skip to main content

Copy of 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 give you an honest assessment of your delivery.
  2. Be organized. If you are well organized, your task will be easier. If your overheads slides are out of order, or your notes are disorganized, you will likely 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 communicating your nervousness and in not letting it take over from the presentation. Over time and with repeated practice, you will feel less nervous and better able to control your nervousness.

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 at least 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 can be a distraction to your audience but, on the other hand, 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 gather your thoughts.
  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.

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; 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

Don't Apologize for Being Nervous!

Most of the time your nervousness will not show. If you don't say anything about it, nobody will notice. If you mention your nervousness or apologize for any problems you think you have with your presentation, you'll only be calling attention to it. Had you remained silent, your listeners may not have noticed at all.