“I Feel Everything!” What to Do When Your Emotions Threaten to Derail Your Presentation (or Conversation)

Last week I was working with a corporate client who asked, “What can I do about the nerves I feel when I present? Even in ‘informal’ meetings, my legs shake so much you can see the papers on my lap going up and down.”

Sound familiar? Or– if your legs don’t shake—perhaps your voice does? Or maybe your heart starts to pound; or friends tell you afterward how red your face was? (FYI, those people are not your friends.) 

All of these things certainly occur (plus so many more…) and all can be managed.

First things first, practice out loud ahead of time. Yes, I know it’s a pain in the neck but it’s only when you are doing it out loud that you notice you actually don’t have a transition between point A and point B.

To make this less onerous, I recommend practicing while you walk. Why? Because this embeds the information in your body kinesthetically, making it easier to pull up when you are under stress.

Second, before you speak you might give yourself a pep talk along the lines of, “I have information. They need information.” This helps take away the idea that your audience is judging you. Now you are on the same team.

Finally—and most importantly—if you find yourself with your voice, legs, etc. shaking, don’t pretend it’s not happening.

If you feel comfortable you might—as I recommended to my client—mention what is occurring. In her case I suggested she say, “It doesn’t seem to matter how much I prepare, my legs still shake. In fact, the more I prepare the more they shake! As you can see, I prepared a lot.”

Similarly, recently a friend told me that during a tense conversation with her mother-in-law she had to state, “I’m going to put my coffee down because my hands are shaking and I don’t want to spill coffee on my chair.” Doing so helped her mother-in-law understand how important the conversation was to her.

If this isn’t something you feel comfortable with, I still recommend allowing whatever is occurring to happen.

In fact, one of my favorite television moments EVER is Spike Lee’s Inside the Actors Studio interview where he talks about raising the money to make Malcolm X.  As you will see if/when you watch it, the tears stream down his face. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t wipe them away. It’s beautiful.

Now I agree, this may not be something you want to do at work. But if, in these moments, you can breathe IN to what is occurring, rather than trying to stuff it down, I think you will discover you have the resources to manage it.

For more on the value of walking it out, here’s a link to “Stupid Car Fight? Writer’s Block? Prepping an Important Presentation? Walk it Out”.