22 Ways to Calm Your Nerves Before a Speech or Presentation

by Janice Tomich

So, you have a big presentation coming up. Maybe you’ve been invited to pitch an idea to your boss or deliver a presentation to an industry association. Maybe you’re even giving the keynote.

Your first reaction is to jump at the opportunity. Then, as the day gets closer your pre-presentation nerves start getting the better of you.

As your public speaking anxiety ramps up, you can hear the sound of your heart thumping in your ears. Your clothes are sticking to your skin. Nights before the big day you toss and turn in bed.

Thankfully there are lots of ways to manage your presentation jitters.

Notice the emphasis on the word “manage.”

Nervousness isn’t something you can entirely get rid of. But when you increase your skills—by learning these anxiety management techniques—you can begin to quiet the feelings that fuel the unhelpful stories that take up far too much time in your head.

These are some of the tried-and-true tips I give to my public speaking coaching clients, many of whom struggle with nervousness when they have a presentation looming.

How to Calm Down Before a Speech or Presentation: 22 Techniques

1. Understand Fight or Flight

Almost everyone feels some degree of nervousness when they need to present. Thanks to our Neanderthal ancestors, the body’s response to your amygdala getting hijacked and going into fight or flight is a deeply embedded, primal reaction.

Public speaking, however, is not the same as being attacked by a sabre toothed tiger.

The best way to manage this innate response is simply to realize that it’s part of your DNA, hardwired into what it means to be human. This awareness will help tamp down your public speaking nerves and put them in context.

2. Nerves and Anxiety Are a Habit

Behaviours follows triggers. For many people, the fear of public speaking fuels overthinking and worrying, which then results in them feeling more anxious. According to Dr. Judd Brewer, this creates an anxiety loop in which we convince ourselves that we are being constructive and solving a problem.

When you feel your heart racing or your monkey brain telling you doomsday stories, notice where it feels tight or uncomfortable in your body. One way to begin managing your anxiety is to notice where in your body you’re feeling it from. As with the fight-or-flight response, simply knowing about the anxiety loop gives you insight can helps it to stop progressing.

“I had a very short amount of time to prepare for a keynote speech (a little over a week). Janice truly assisted me in getting my thoughts organised and asked all the right questions about the kind of message I wanted to deliver.”

​​​​Sucheta Misra
Associate VP Inclusion & Diversity and Social Impact Leader

It’s not too late…
(info on presentation coaching package)

3. Take a Deep Breath

Breathing sounds easy!

Actually it’s not.

When you get anxious you’ll find yourself taking rapid breaths, restricted to the upper half of your chest. Physiologically, shallow breathing fuels nervous reactions. Instead, consciously take a few deep breaths. This will naturally regulate your heightened emotions. Your heart rate and you will instantly feel more relaxed.

If you have a Fitbit, Apple Watch or other device that monitors your heart rate you’ll be amazed to see how quickly your heart rate will drop by simply taking in a series of deep breaths. Try it!

4. Transform Your Nervous Energy Into Excitement

Anxiety and excitement are similar emotions. Both are high states of arousal accompanied by things such as a rapid heart rate, dry mouth, sweaty palms and sometimes a feeling or sensation of being “outside” of your body.

Typically, we view anxiety as negative and excitement as positive. Anxiety is uncomfortable. We’d much rather feel excitement than anxiety.

Because both are heightened states of arousal, however, you can actually trick your brain into feeling excited instead of anxious by using awareness and reframing techniques. Positive thinking and using affirming self-talk can flip the switch from anxiety to excitement.

Try it. The next time you feel anxiety bubbling up, simply say “I feel excited.” Yes, say it out loud!

Using this simple tip, it’s possible to change a negative mindset to a positive one. You’ve set yourself up nicely for your next presentation.

​​​​Do you have an important presentation coming up?
You don’t have to plan it alone.

If you’re lost and unsure about how to make your presentation compelling, I can help.

5. Smile, Even if You’re Feeling Anxious

Smiling helps lower your stress level by releasing endorphins, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.

Yes, as easy as smiling!

6. Use Relaxation Exercises

Listening to music is a form of relaxation, which can calm pre-presentation anxiety and help you stay grounded.

Meditation is the simple act of being aware of what’s in front of us … no yoga mat or meditation cushion required. Meditation can subdue the nervous tension that comes with delivering presentations.

Recently, a client shared with me his rather surprising meditative process. It’s slightly unusual (and had me laughing).

Before every presentation, he goes to a fast food restaurant and orders a cheeseburger. Then, he consciously watches as he orders his food, receives his order, and then eats it. Apparently this meditative ritual works for him every time.

A more common approach (than the cheeseburger routine) is to simply be observant of your environment while you’re walking, or consciously feel the sensation of water falling on your body when you take your morning shower.

Meditation techniques lower your anxiety because you won’t cycle through all worrying “what if’s”. Instead, simply be present.

7. Burn Off Energy by Doing Some Cardio

Moving your body and getting your heart pumping also releases endorphins which can help quell any pre-presentation anxiety.

I’ve been known to do a few fast-walking laps around a conference centre to reduce the stress I feel before I deliver a speech or presentation.

Going for a quick run or cycle before your event are terrific anxiety-busters too!

8. Use Visualization Techniques

Did you know you can strengthen muscles without even moving them?

Elite athletes, such as golfers, practice watching (in their mind’s eye) their ball land on the green or in the cup. The visualization exercise builds muscle memory to help hit the ball successfully, so it lands where the golfer intended.

Public speakers can use visualization techniques to manage anxiety, too.

As your presentation day nears, take your mind on a walking tour. Imagine every detail – in your mind’s eye walk onto the stage, deliver your speech, listen to the applause, and then leave the stage. Do the visualization with a positive outlook to set yourself for an anxiety-free delivery.

9. Be Prepared

Preparing in the content of your presentation in the ‘theatre of your mind’ is a trap. Practicing this way lulls you into thinking that all is well as you run through your presentation self correcting.

Only practicing your actual words will prepare you for the live event. You’ll establish exactly what you want to say, and how to say it, which will boost your confidence and soothe any nervousness.

10. Practice, Practice, and Then Practice Some More

I have never had a client tell me they wished they’d practiced less.

My advice for how to practice delivering a speech or presentation is to practice until you are tired of hearing yourself, which typically clocks in at 30 hours of practice for a one-hour presentation.

Pro Tip: Once you have practiced your entire presentation a few times, you only practice the parts which are tripping you up. There’s no value in practicing from start to finish when you’re only challenged by specific sections.

11. Drink Water to Stay Hydrated During Your Presentation

Drinking water and staying hydrated in the days leading up to your presentation can help with anxiety, too, since you'll be able to speak more clearly.

Having a dry mouth can cause you to trip over your words, which will rev up even more nervous tension. Beginning a few days before you’re scheduled to deliver your speech, increase your water intake so your words will flow easily.

Pro Tip: Pop one of these lozenges in your mouth a few minutes before you go on stage. They work wonders to coat your mouth and throat.

12. Prepare an Excellent Opening to Your Presentation

I don’t recommend memorizing your entire presentation or speech. But I do recommend memorizing the open and close.

Anxiety often ramps up in the first 30 seconds of your presentation. By committing to memory the beginning (and the close) you’ll prevent yourself from having a rocky start or lacklustre finish.

13. Employ the Power of the Pause

You likely talk too fast when you’re nervous. With the rapid fire of your words comes an increase in your stress level.

Pauses are a brilliant technique slow down your speech, and avoid talking too quickly.

Look through your presentation and find the most important points you want your audience to take back to the office. Place a pause in the front and back end of these sections.

Not only do pauses help your audience understand the important points, it gives you some breathing room and slows down your rate of speaking.

14. Before You Present, Test the Technology

Man using a virtual reality machine—hopefully the tech you need to navigate for your upcoming presentation won't be this challenging.

There’s nothing like technology not working to rattle your nerves — even for seasoned presenters.

Whether you’re online or in person, make sure you’re comfortable with the technology you’ll be using.

If you’re delivering online ask a friend or colleague to do a technology run-through.

If you’re delivering live on stage most event planners invite their presenters for a pre-presentation tech check.

Take advantage of the time to test the technology so you can deliver without having to worry about which button to click or where to stand.

15. Arrive Early, Before You’re Scheduled to Present

Whether online or in person, arrive 20 to 30 minutes before you’re scheduled to present.

Give yourself lots of time to settle in and feel comfortable in your surroundings. Arriving early will give you the opportunity to check out where everything is situated, which will stop any last minute scrambling that could leave you unsettled.

16. Walk Around. Own Your Space.

When you walk into a space cold — not having been on-site before — it’s challenging to know how much space you can take advantage of.

Take the time to walk around the presentation space (This applies to both live events and online ones.)

There is comfort in knowing how much “real estate” you have to move through. Feel your feet on the floor.

17. Attend Your Colleagues’ Presentations

Likewise, take the time to get comfortable in the event itself. Stop in and listen to your colleagues’ presentations, and encourage them to attend yours.

Building a sense of camaraderie helps you feel supported by your peers, which helps release the nervous energy soothe your pre-presentation jitters.

18. Meet Your Audience Before Your Presentation

Two men speaking at a conference. Meeting other conference participants and attending your colleagues' presentations can help make your own presentation less nerve-wracking. It's a great way to calm your nerves before a presentation.

When I deliver a presentation I arrive well in advance of when I’m scheduled to deliver so I can meet the people who will be attending my talk.

It’s a good investment. Meeting your audience beforehand “warms” the room (makes you and them feel more comfortable). This allows you to better connect with your audience.

19. Connect Through Good Eye Contact

During your presentation, connect with the audience using effective eye contact. Make this an easy win by following tip #19 and reading my article with five tips for making eye contact while public speaking.

20. Use Powerful Body Language

Try slumping over. How do you feel? Low on energy?

Now stand tall with your shoulders back and your head held high. How do you feel now? I suspect you feel high energy/confident.

Your posture affects how you feel. The small shift from slumped to taking up lots of space makes a big difference to your level of confidence.

21. Avoid Alcohol & Caffeine in the Lead-Up to the Event

We all know the effects of excessive alcohol and caffeine. One will leave you too relaxed, and the other too jittery.

Save the drinks until after your presentation, and limit yourself to one cup of coffee or tea before you present to deliver your speech as the best version of yourself.

22. Sleep Well the Night Before

A day or two before you are scheduled to deliver your speech plan to have your slides completed and confident you know your content inside out.

Don’t spend the night before adjusting slides and practicing. Trying to create a perfect presentation at the last minute will only ramp up your anxiety.

Schedule lots of time to prepare in the weeks leading up to the event, so can feel refreshed to meet your audience.

If you’re struggling with presentation nerves choose a few of the techniques which resonated with you. Give them a try. It’s though practice and increasing your public speaking skills that you’ll get a handle on your nerves.

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