Virtual presentations can be a source of anxiety.
It can feel weird because, unlike face-to-face presentations, there’s a lack of audience feedback.
You don’t see people nodding along, and it’s harder to make eye contact.
You’re just staring at the camera and what’s worse is you can’t hear the people listening to your presentation.
The lack of feedback leads to this dreadful feeling of disconnection. As a result, you feel more anxious about presenting virtually.
Plus, presenting to an audience makes you vulnerable and increases your chance of rejection. As humans, we fear rejection.
Keep reading as we explore actionable and science-backed tips to help calm your nerves before your next online presentation.
7 Steps to manage online presentation anxiety
Can’t sleep days before your presentation? Or do you break into a cold sweat just thinking about the presentation?
The good news is you’re not alone – fear of public speaking, whether virtual or in-person, is the most common type of phobia.
Experienced public speakers may also feel the same way. However, the difference is they have mastered the following steps to manage and tame their nerves before a presentation.
1. Identify the root cause of your nervousness
The first step in calming your nerves before your presentation is to get to the bottom of your anxiety.
To start, write them down on a piece of paper or your notes software. Here are some examples:
- I’m afraid I’ll look stupid.
- I’m nervous about not being able to answer the audience’s questions. What if my presentation is boring for the audience?
- What if I look awkward on camera?
- What if my sales report slides won’t work on the day of the presentation?
After writing them down, dig a little deeper into each concern on your list.
For example, if you’re afraid that you’ll look awkward and unattractive on camera, take steps to look good on video. Dress the part, adjust the camera angle, or face the room’s source of light.
On the other hand, if you’re worried about the barrage of questions after your presentation, make a list of all the possible questions your audience will ask ahead of time and brainstorm your answers.
2. Know the ins and outs of your topic
You are less likely to feel nervous about your presentation if you’re an expert or have above-average knowledge of the topic you’re presenting.
“The better you understand what you’re talking about – and the more you care about the topic – the less likely you’ll make a mistake or get off track. And if you do get lost, you’ll be able to recover quickly,” shares clinical psychologist Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P.
If possible, pick a topic that interests you. Researching a topic that you like feels less of a chore, and you’ll be more enthusiastic to talk about it during your virtual presentation.
When you’re confident about your presentation, you’re likely to feel less anxious about talking in front of your laptop or computer camera.
Rehearsing your presentation multiple times before the actual presentation is one great way to ramp up your confidence.
The following steps are confidence boosters:
- Act out the entire presentation and don’t just gloss over the main points or mumble as you practice.
- Speak out loud and use gestures.
- Record yourself on camera, so you’ll know which parts you have trouble explaining, and you can make improvements during the actual presentation.
- Practice in the location where you’ll be presenting. For example, if you’re presenting from your home office, practice in advance in that room. Meanwhile, if you’re going to present virtually from a coworking space, rehearse in the exact location.
- Have a family member, colleague, or friend listen to you. Ask for their feedback. Let them ask questions, so you’ll get used to the Q and A portion of your presentation.
Finally, the Grand Valley State University Speech Lab recommends that you familiarize yourself with your presentation deck, including your visual aids and the sequence of the slides. By doing so, you’ll have an idea of what comes next, and you’ll feel more confident.
According to Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, video chats dramatically reduce physical mobility.
When you’re on the same spot and have less room to move, this can often result in Zoom fatigue. As a result, you feel more nervous and have a hard time relaxing.
For this reason, tidy up and declutter your video conferencing space in advance.
Get rid of food boxes, too many plants, books, toys, papers, and unused work equipment. If possible, take the kids and pets away from the area where you’ll be presenting.
Visual clutter is associated with increased cognitive overload. As a result, you’ll have a hard time concentrating on your presentation. When you have problems focusing, you’ll feel that you have less sense of control, resulting in anxiety.
5. Get used to looking at the camera
One good way to appear (and feel!) less anxious is to look at the camera instead when you’re talking. This tip helps you maintain eye contact with your audience despite the lack of physicality.
Get used to this presentation jitters hack by looking at the camera while you’re practicing.
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., executive coach and international keynote speaker, recommends that you lower your camera a little. By doing so, there’s no need for you to tilt your head back to gaze up at the camera.
While you might want to look at your audience’s faces to gauge their reaction, it’s also equally important to look straight to the camera for eye contact.
You’ve prepared for the presentation, and you’ve practiced with a colleague. But you’re still feeling tense about the whole thing.
The next step to calming yourself before your next presentation is to give yourself enough time to amp up your presentation energy.
Nancy Duarte, communication expert and author of The Art and Science of Presentation Design, recommends pre-talk rituals. She further suggests that there are four types of pre-talk rituals, depending on your personality.
Here are the types of pre-talk rituals with corresponding examples:
- Empathy ritual – This type of pre-talk ritual is ideal if you present to an audience that you’re unfamiliar with and need to present new information or content.
Example: Get to know your audience before your virtual presentation by asking questions about them.
- Exertion ritual – This type of pre-talk ritual is suitable for you if you need to appear upbeat and high-energy during your online presentation.
Example: Go out for a quick walk before your virtual talk.
- Spiritual ritual – A spiritual ritual is perfect for speakers and presenters who are naturally amped up as a person. This ritual helps you feel more grounded and relaxed.
Example: Perform breathing exercises half an hour before your presentation in Zoom or other online platforms.
- Mantra-based ritual – This ritual is ideal if you’re the type who gets comforted by self-talk.
Example: Repeat a favorite phrase to yourself as a way to prepare yourself during a presentation.
Make an effort to speak slowly during your presentation. When speaking quickly, your brain will likely perceive it as a threat, making you feel more nervous.
Finally, smile! When you smile, your body produces endorphins, which can reduce stress and make you feel calmer.
You’ve got this
Virtual presentations are the norm now that people are more likely working remotely or taking online classes.
It’s normal to feel nervous and anxious before giving a presentation online. As long as you take the steps we’ve outlined above to manage (don’t think about getting rid of it completely!) your nerves and stay calm, you’re going to become a better, calmer presenter in no time.
You’ve got this!
Guest author: Kai Tomboc is currently taking care of content at Piktochart, an easy-to-use design tool that helps you tell your story with the visual impact it deserves. She has written for various SaaS brands and publications like G2. When not engrossed in a book, she’s most likely taming tardigrades.