How to Calm Down Before a Presentation: 10 Practical Tips and Techniques

How to Calm Down Before a Presentation

Becoming a confident public speaker takes time and experience. However, the biggest obstacle between a beginner public speaker and a professional one will always be stage fright. No matter how well you planned your presentation and how prepared you are, stress and social anxiety can make your mind blank. This is why combating your fear is the most necessary step you need to take to reach your full potential.  The truth is, there will always be stress. Even the most experienced speakers are nervous before getting out to present in front of an audience. However, just like them, you can handle it in a professional way and come out on top. This is why in this article we will look at some practical tips and techniques you can try out in order to manage how to calm down before a presentation.

Article overview:
Why are You Nervous?
1. Going Against the Flight-or-Fight Response
2. Handling Your Basic Needs
3. The Wine-Glass Poring Technique
4. Realistic Practice
5. Focus Outward
6. Build Relationship First
7. Find Your Favorite 5 People
8. Tactical Breathing
9. Your Opening
10. Map Your Presentation

“There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”

Mark Twain


Why are You Nervous?

The difference between an experienced and an inexperienced speaker is that the experienced one knows how to handle their nerves. This sounds about right, however, before learning how to handle nerves, let’s ask ourselves, what does it mean to be an experienced speaker. The first thing that most likely comes to your mind would be a speaker with many years of presentations behind their backs. Although this is somewhat true, it’s only half of it: in fact, there are many speakers who have been presenting for years but they always feel the same intense fear before and during their presentations.

For this reason, there’s the misconception that some people simply aren’t cut to speak before an audience and it takes a special kind of talent or a personality type to master this skill. And here comes the other half of that truth: the experience behind speaking in front of an audience doesn’t only take practice in presenting but also understanding what happens in your own brain and why it happens.


The reason behind Fear of Public Speaking

Public speaking anxiety is a common and natural response of the brain in the shape of “brain freeze”. If we go back in time to our primordial roots, our ancestors were vulnerable to harsh elements and large predators. This is why the ability to live in a tribe was an essential survival skill as being rejected by the group would lead to certain death. Following these primordial roots, speaking to an audience triggers this same vulnerability of judgment and rejection that naturally feel life-threatening.  Such life-threatening situations instantly trigger the flight or fight response alongside complex bodily changes in order to protect us from harm. Your brain gives you faster heart beat, faster respiration and adrenaline, preparing you to run.

With this being said, although speaking in front of an audience is not a life-threatening situation that requires such a response, the threat area of your brain cannot make the distinction. You can’t run from your audience, but your brain prepares you to. It gives you the signal to protect yourself from the threat.


Why does your brain freeze?

According to Dr. Michael DeGeorgia of Case Western University Hospitals, our pre-frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for sorting our memories and are also sensitive to anxiety. This means, if your brain starts to freeze up, your stress hormones go high and shut down the frontal lobe, disconnecting it from the rest of the brain. As a result, it makes it harder for your brain to retrieve those memories, which is another effect of the flight or fight mode. 

This is why the most important step you will take on your way to becoming an experienced public speaker is to learn to recognize that your fear of brain freeze is not a matter of life or death. It all comes down to full self-awareness.

The science behind public speaking anxiety

Photography by Elisa Ventur


1. Going Against the Flight-or-Fight Response

Now, it all makes sense to experience these sensations of your natural flight or fight response and to want to protect yourself. This will often result in your body posture when you protectively cross your arms in front of your body, lower your shoulders to appear smaller and less visible. You might start looking down or frantically looking from one person to another.

Experienced speakers tend to battle this response by doing exactly the opposite. They will use that awareness on a conscious level to making themselves appear big in front of the audience. Their posture will be positive, open, upright. Have you noticed how big and confident most speakers look in front of the camera when you watch television? In many instances, you might think their confidence looks fake, and you won’t be entirely wrong. What they do is consciously go against their flight or fight response and you can really learn a lot from it.  

Try to observe how these people stand, what they do with their arms and legs. Don’t hesitate to consciously imitate their techniques until you get comfortable with your neutral position. To do so, practice in front of the mirror

How to calm down before a presentation: dealing with the flight or fight response

Photography by Anna Tarazevich


2. Handing Your Basic Needs

We’ll start with the bare minimum and most important steps you need to take to reduce your stress. Although these tactics are way too apparent, this is also the reason they are often overlooked.


Make sure you familiarize yourself with the room where you’ll be speaking. This way you will not only have the opportunity to arrange things the way you want but will also help you visualize how the room will be set up the day you’ll be presenting. If it looks familiar, it will feel safer and more comfortable. 

Good night sleep

We all tend to sacrifice our sleep in order to get those extra hours to prepare for our presentations. However, this often has the exact opposite effect. Instead of preparing better, we end up exhausted and even more stressed. In fact, nothing beats the benefits of good night’s sleep. You will feel refreshed, relaxed, less stressed and you’ll even have the energy and focus to go through the presentational material in the morning during your coffee fix.

Meals and exercise

Do your normal routine and have the meals and exercise you would normally have on a day where you don’t have a presentation. 

Don’t forget the water

Most speakers make sure they have water available during their presentations. The stress of public speaking often results in dry mouth, which only causes the speaker to feel more uncomfortable. 

Think positive

Avoid negative thoughts and negative people that might ruin your confidence. In fact, you are the one who prepared the presentation and nobody knows the material better than you. Make sure you specify those affirming thoughts in your head: “I really know the material”, “I have something valuable to share”, ” I am glad I have the opportunity to share my thoughts”, “the audience will learn something new and insightful.”

Avoid negative thoughts before a presentation

Photography by


3. The Wine-Glass Pouring Technique

One of the effects of having public speaking anxiety is not knowing how and for how long to remain in eye contact with different members of your audience. Some speakers suggest the wine glass technique. When you’re in front of your audience, imagine you’re pouring them a glass of wine. This will help you to stay with one person at a time. You will remain that personal attention with a particular individual for the time it takes to pour them a glass of wine. While you do so, you won’t get tempted to look away or to start looking nervously from one person to another.


4. Realistic Practice

Try to practice your presentation the exact way you’re going to present it in front of the audience. This includes even your introduction and other elements you don’t feel are worth practicing. Even if you get some parts wrong or make a mistake, don’t start over. Instead, do what you would during the actual presentation, try to push through your mistake, and move on. In addition, don’t say out loud how nervous you are, because there’s a chance you might transfer this part to the event itself. Make sure you work out the issues you might face during the practice stage. Once you’re satisfied with the presentation you give in closed doors, you may relax. Chances are, it will go the exact same way in front of the audience as well.


5. Focus Outward

Many inexperienced presenters tend to put the focus on themselves due to nervousness. This is also a natural response caused by stress. You might be too afraid not to look awkward or make a bad impression, and focusing on this will only make things worse. Instead, think of your audience and what message you want to convey. Same as comedians work on their jokes and focus on making their audience laugh rather than thinking about how they come across, try to work on your message and how best you can make it land in front of your audience. Remember that you’re giving your audience something valuable and it’s all that matters. Validation has never been the goal.


6. Build Relationship First

A proven practical tip to start building a relationship with the audience the very moment you start your presentation is to ask first, speak later. Especially if you’re going to give a presentation in front of important people in your company, clients you need to convert or another work-relating setting, choose the most influential people who will present, in advance.

Once you start your presentation, take your time to ask them about their take on what’s happening in the company, for example. Depending on the context, you might need to ask about challenges, goals, or even recent successes. You can use their answers as great context for your presentation content, to focus on these specific parts. It will also turn your presentation into an interesting dialogue and will instantly learn the respect of your audience. To give an example with stand-up comedias once more, they tend to research what’s happening in the cities they will be performing at and prepare local refereces and commentaries. 

Building a relationship with your audience

Photography by RODNAE Productions


7. Find Your Favorite 5 People

As it came clear, one of the easiest ways to recognize nervousness is scanning quickly through the audience from one person to another. Especially in situations where you don’t know the audience, it’s hard to focus on whom to make direct eye contact with. Here’s a good practical tip to start with. Ground your nerves by finding 5 people in different positions in the room to consistently lock eyes with throughout your presentation. This will make you feel you have 5 personal conversations and will help you focus better on your content.


8.  Tactical Breathing

Slow down your breathing. This one sounds way too easy and that’s because it is. Calming your breathing instantly calms your entire autonomous nervous system. When you’re facing a high-stress situation, chances are you might hold your breath or start breathing in a very fast and shallow way. This is a symptom triggered by your brain and the best way to battle it is to trick your brain back to a normal state. Experienced speakers suggest breathing from your abdomen. Imagine you have a balloon in your stomach and as you breathe in, you’re filling that balloon with air so it expanses.  Also known as the 4×4 technique, when you breathe, you do that to the count of 4, hold your breath to the count of 4, breathe out to the count of  4 and hold your breath to the count of 4 once again. 

Battling anxiety before a presentation

Photography by Luis Villasmil


9. Prepare to Nail Your Opening

Usually, 10 to 15 minutes before your presentation, you’ll be most vulnerable to your nerves. Don’t be tempted to go through the entire material as if you’re a student 10 minutes before an exam. Instead, only focus on your opening lines. Rehearse them, memorize them and prepare to nail that awesome introduction. Once you deliver your opening, you’ll gain confidence, momentum and the rest of your presentation will take care of itself. 


10. Map Your Presentation

This includes preparing a template or a worksheet with the major steps you need to take during your presentation. Having all written down will help you relax knowing you won’t miss anything important.

  • Hook: You immediately strike your audience instantly with something interesting and unconventional they wouldn’t expect.
  • Transition: You link your hook to your main point.
  • Introduction: Once you already have your audience’s attention, you can finally make a very brief introduction with something relevant to your topic.
  • Preview: Give your audience a brief preview of what you’re going to talk about.
  • Benefits: Tell your audience how will they benefit from listening to your presentation. (ex. “By the end, you will already know how to…”)
  • Main Points and Supporting Evidence
  • Conclusion

For more tips on how to start and end a presentation, check out the full article.

Photography by Kane Reinholdtsen


Final Words

These were the 10 proven tactics and techniques on how to calm down before a presentation. Fighting public speaking anxiety is never easy, however, once you recognize the cause, you can train your mind to consciously battle it.

In the meantime, you could also check some more insights on related topics, gather inspiration, or simply grab a freebie?

Enjoyed this article?

Don’t forget to share!

Al Boicheva

Al is an illustrator at GraphicMama with out-of-the-box thinking and a passion for anything creative. In her free time, you will see her drooling over tattoo art, Manga, and horror movies.

Create impressive presentations with GraphicMama's presentation templates:

Hey! You made it all the way to the bottom!

Here are some other articles we think you may like:

Looking for Design Bundles or Cartoon Characters?

A source of high-quality vector graphics offering a huge variety of premade character designs, graphic design bundles, Adobe Character Animator puppets, and more.

Browse our graphics