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Ask the Expert: Dr. Chloe’s 3 tips for the Anxious Presenter

When you’re asked to give a presentation, where do you fall on the anxiety spectrum? Even the most proficient and experienced presenters have some degree of nervousness, while others find the prospect of getting in front of a room a near-debilitating experience. The bad news – as if you needed more – is that if we carry this anxiety into our presentation, our audience starts to feel this way too. (For more on mirror neurons, read Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct).


There’s a lot that we can do to help speakers by focusing their messaging, developing visuals with reassuring guide posts and incorporating techniques to improve delivery. Having a manageable amount of well-organized content makes it easier to practice. For most of us, our confidence increases and we keep a manageable amount of “good nerves” for our presentation.


However, there’s a subset of speakers who have a more complicated relationship with anxiety. In this case, as in many others, when there’s a problem that falls outside of our expertise, we turn to our network of subject matter experts. In this case I contacted Dr. Chloe Carmichael, a licensed psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders. I asked her how she frames anxiety in the context of presentations.


Dr. Chloe explained that it can be helpful to think of anxiety as something that occurs out of a habit.

“Anxiety is a learned response that we use to deal with uncertainty or events. Many of the behaviors that come out of this anxiety, are also those that make us conscientious and diligent about our work. High performers have a certain amount of anxiety. When the anxiety becomes overwhelming, we can “un-learn” the destructive habits and break the chain of events.”


Here are Dr. Chloe’s three tips to help you reconsider your relationship with anxiety:

1. Predict that you’re going to get anxious. It is normal – and healthy – to have some nerves when you are about to give a presentation. If we expect to be completely “zen” it’s both unrealistic and unhelpful towards our goal of giving a good presentation. (A manageable amount of nervousness will give your talk an a level of excitement that your audience will pick up on. They, in turn, will feel energized.)


2. Have a back-up plan. If your nerves should become unbearable, prepare to share two or three points so that you can convey what’s most important without finding yourself in a “crash and burn” situation. Prepare a handout that includes the key points of your talk.


3. Practice breathing techniques. Learn how to use them well in advance of your presentation. If you’re trying to learn them the day of, you’re not giving them a chance to work. The key is to rehearse the breathing techniques on a regular basis so that they become a habit (do we see a theme here?).


For more resources on managing anxiety, including online tools, visit Dr. Choe’s site. Her practice, Dr.Chloe’s Associates, is headquartered in midtown New York and includes seven therapists. Portico readers are eligible for a 20% discount Dr. Chloe’s online anxiety program, with the code PORTICO now through the end of November 2015. Follow her at @DrChloe_.

November 03, 2015 in Ask the Expert, Behave, Delivery