Presentation and public speaking anxiety are things many college students know all too well. Speaking in front of a group of people is an incredibly daunting task, especially when it comes to subjects that you might not know a ton about or be very interested in. I have dealt with a severe anxiety disorder for the majority of my school years and have dealt with every terrible presentation outcome you can possibly imagine. I’ve completely blacked out, had panic attacks, spilled water on my notes, and even panicked and began to speak about something that was completely unrelated to my designated topic. If you’re anything like me, when you get in front of a class you might start to feel like those first few lines in “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, and maybe even a little bit of vomit on your sweater already. If that sounds familiar, these tips are for you.
- BREATHE – SERIOUSLY. Easier said than done, I know. As you make the treacherous journey to the front of the room, try to take a few deep breaths. Inhale, hold for three to five seconds, and exhale the same way. As someone with severe anxiety, I can assure taking the time to focus on your breathing for a few seconds will make a massive difference. You will feel much worse about the delivery of your presentation if you pass out as soon as you get up there, so we want to avoid that at all costs.
- STAY HYDRATED. Say it with me now: Hydration is the expectation when doing a presentation. Drink plenty of water before you present, and if circumstances allow it, always bring a water bottle up with you. Dry mouth is no joke! It’s not easy to speak loudly and clearly when your lips are sticking to your teeth, so don’t feel bad if you have to pause for a second and take a drink. Not only will it help a dry mouth, but it will give you another second or two to calm down and pace yourself.
- SLOW DOWN! Chances are you will zoom through your presentation in record time once that adrenaline hits you. When you practice your speech, speak as slowly as you can. You will definitely speed up once you find yourself in front of an audience but practicing slowly will help make the nervous timing difference less obvious to those watching.
- FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT. Practicing confident body language is a must. When we get anxious or scared, we tend to do things that make us appear smaller and closed up – slouching, holding your arms, looking down, etc. That makes it incredibly obvious to everyone how nervous you are. It has always helped me to practice speeches in front of a mirror and correct myself when I’m not standing up straight or fidgeting with my hands too much. Straighten up, move your hands and arms around as you speak, make eye contact, smile! Just like Slim Shady himself said – “he’s nervous but on the surface he looks calm and ready.” If you can manage to “act” confident even though you might be a nervous wreck on the inside, I guarantee no one will have any idea. A little acting goes a long way.
There are many ways to feel more confident when presenting or giving a speech in a class, but these are a few of my favorites and the ones I have utilized the most throughout my four years in college. It takes a lot of practice to get better at public speaking, but if you’re willing to put the work in it’s 100% worth it. Good luck!
Written by Brynn Miller