I Am A Nervous Presenter 

I am by nature an introvert, someone who is both shy and thus anxious about saying the wrong thing, and who hates being the star of the show – I have presentation nerves.  In the past, I have tried to overcome my presentation nerves by writing and learning a tight script. But this has often resulted in me being even more nervous – both worrying about missing out an important line, and being so focused on trying to remember the script that I do a poor job at engaging the people I’m presenting my presentation to.

Calming The Nervous

Over time, I’ve learned how to eliminate presentation nerves, not by following a tight script as I used to do, but instead by focusing my mind on achieving the desired outcome. So instead of memorising the presentation, I now walk into any senior-level meeting with a clear view of the three to five key messages that I want to land, and a sense of the logical argument that I’ll take to get there, supported by a presentation deck that reflects this. These key messages typically include:
  • Why senior managers need to engage – demonstrating why the project is important for the company, as well as for each of them personally as part of the leadership team.
  • What I want their agreement to – ensuring that the ‘reasons to progress’ are compelling and that the three to five ‘asks’ are tangible.
  • The next steps – both what I’ll do next and what they’ll see next.
By doing this, I find that it doesn’t matter if I don’t cover every line of the script or even page of the presentation deck, provided that the key messages land. Similarly, it doesn’t matter if the meeting goes off-piste, provided I bring in back in time to get the agreements I need.

Getting Top Team Buy-in

For example, when working with the top team of a FTSE100 company, I presented the recommendation to build a strong global brand to the CEO and his top 20 leaders. Given that his top team was divided about investing in a global brand, it was a tense, high stakes two-hour meeting – with any wrong move potentially eliminating the patchy buy-in we’d achieved to date. In essence, this was the type of meeting that would have traditionally made me very nervous. On the day itself, I remember walking into the meeting with a clear view of why the top team should engage, and the key recommendations and next steps that we wanted their agreement to. Yet, as I started to walk through the 30-page presentation, the meeting kept going off-piste, with senior managers raising their pet topics and concerns, and distracting the conversation away from the main agenda. By letting them meander across the range of topics that they wanted to discuss, and then bringing them back to why they should engage and what we wanted their agreement to, we spent less time focusing on the presentation deck, and more time talking about what really mattered to them. This in turn secured buy-in to the investment required to build a strong brand, and a clear way forward on what we would do next.

In Summary

To eliminate presentation nerves, rather than focus on following a tight script, I focus on the three to five key messages that I want to land – such as why senior managers should engage, what I want their agreement to and the desired next steps – supported by a clear logical argument on why these make sense, and a presentation deck that reflects this. Then in the meeting itself, it doesn’t matter if I don’t cover every line of the script or page of the presentation deck, or if the meeting goes off-piste, provided I have the time needed to get the agreements I need. See more about Ruth here Connect with Ruth on LinkedIn here.

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