How can I be less nervous during the lecture I'm giving tomorrow?
February 24, 2013 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm giving an hour-long lecture tomorrow before a class of 50 college students. This is something I've never done before (although I've given shorter presentations to smaller audiences). How can I minimize nervousness/stage fright?

I'm not worried about blanking or losing the thread because I have a detailed PowerPoint and am an expert on the subject matter. What I'm more concerned about is involuntary physical symptoms of anxiety. For example, my throat tends to constrict when I'm feeling nervous, which makes my voice sound thin and reedy (although I will have a mic so projection isn't an issue), and I'll sometimes stumble over words. (What do actors and singers do to prevent these things from happening?) I also tend to freeze up and not use much body language; I know it's boring for the audience when a speaker stands in one place and doesn't gesture much, but reminding myself to gesture deliberately would feel (and probably look) awkward and contrived. Practical suggestions?
posted by zeri to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Ask for / take questions. If you're an expert, that's the easiest way to engage and be comfortable. You can even ask yourself rhetorical questions and then answer them.
posted by spacewrench at 11:21 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Asking questions is a good tip, even if it's just "give me a show of hands" type questions. It helps to create a connection with your audience, and I find that connection helps me to relax a bit and feel that they crowd is "on my side."

My other suggestion is to just not worry about stumbling over words, or being awkward, or reminding yourself to gesture. An audience is generally sympathetic to how difficult it can be to give a lecture, and it's often disarming if you're a bit awkward. I lecture regularly and constantly stumble over words, have to back up and repeat something, crash into desks and garbage cans as I'm walking around the classroom, etc., and I still get strong evaluations. If the content is interesting and compelling, stuff like that doesn't matter.

Oh, and make eye contact with the audience. Be careful of lecturing AT your PowerPoint, instead of with it!

Good luck!
posted by Ms. Toad at 11:25 AM on February 24, 2013

Best answer: Have the first five minutes memorized, with all the timings nailed. Including the gracious opener. That way you can be on autopilot to start, giving you time to settle in and relax. In those five minutes, scan the room for who is making generous eye contact. Those people will be paying attention for the rest of the lecture, so you can return to them occasionally to see if they're following.

The number one key is speed. Don't go too fast. You can be interesting without being hyper, and you need to make sure the students have time to take notes from your slides. Giving a few moments of silence at the end of each slide (five heartbeats), before you begin your transition to the next one, will give you another chance to relax, and gives the students time to digest the material. It also shows you have confidence in yourself and understand the students' needs.
posted by one_bean at 11:28 AM on February 24, 2013

Have a handkerchief near you (in case you start sweating) and a glass of water. Something cold that you can hold against your wrists while you talk if you are getting really uncomfortable.

Also, practice what you are going to say. A lot. Then in your slide notes, write a word-for-word script of what you are saying. Include the conversational and transitional details as separate easy-to-find sentences on your notes e.g. "So, you can see how our pilot study results led us to the design of our main study .... [click next]". That way if you start to stumble, just read the words on your notes until you get yourself back together. If you totally get lost, you just jump to your transition sentence and move to the next slide. The students will notice that less than you stumbling over a muddled explanation of the slide you're having trouble communicating about. You can also think of engaging questions (on preview, such as a "show of hands" type question) to ask and include them in your script.

But really, just practice until you get absolutely sick of what you're doing and saying. It really helps and this can help you get the timing/eye contact suggestions down so that you don't have to worry about that part and just enjoy the opportunity to do this.
posted by gubenuj at 11:37 AM on February 24, 2013

Deep breaths will help if your voice starts to sound thin.

And also, it's ok if this presentation is not perfect. It can still be good - helpful to the students and a stepping stone for you. Expect a couple of flubs and be ready to shrug them off with a little humor. Acceptance makes it easier to move on.
posted by bunderful at 11:37 AM on February 24, 2013

One thing that's really helpful to remember is that those feeling of nervousness and their physical manifestations are much more apparent to you than they are to other people. I learned this in a speech class where our presentations were videotaped. In my first speech I was a nervous wreck -- trembling and sweating but when I viewed the tape afterwards you could barely notice a thing.

It's also useful to remember that the students will not be 100% focused on you and whether or not you appear nervous. They will be focused on the material itself, their own thoughts, the clock, the attractive person in front of them, whatever.

You're nervous because you care about doing well, and you will do well, because you care.
posted by averageamateur at 11:39 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

All really good advice above. The audience are indeed less interested in You than you think, and want you to do well.

Also, remember a pause can be really powerful. If you feel you are stumbling and and things seem to be running away from you, you can just stop for a moment. Your pause will always feel much longer to you than the audience - they may not even notice. No need to apologise for it, either.
Just stop. Take a step back, maybe a sip of water, a smile and eye contact with the audience and off you go again.
You are the one in control.
posted by Marzipan at 12:27 PM on February 24, 2013

Yeah, you are worrying too much about what people will notice... it's the spotlight / Barry Manilow effect.

There's no real difference between speaking to a big group as a small one - esp as you've got a mic. Just treat it the same as you have done before
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2013

If you're using slides, you're inherently giving people something to look at other than you. Personally I think that's why so many people rely so heavily on PowerPoint, but that's a different rant..... My point is that the eyes you feel on you, really aren't on you most of the time.

If I'm using slides, I always put a funny or random slide in every section. A purely visual thing that doesn't require me to deliver a line to make it work. This lets you insert a bit of your personality and set the tone ahead of time, while you're relaxed. It also affords you several natural pauses while the audience reacts to the screen. Take a drink of water or a deep breath, acknowledge the joke or not. It's like building in an ice breaker every so often, and it helps hold attention if the lecture has a low-energy point.

But really, remind yourself of your own attitude when watching a lecturer: you want them to do well. And everyone who bothers to show up will want you to do well too. Think of the audience as all your supporters, and it's harder to be intimidated by them.

Good luck!
posted by nadise at 12:51 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If they're typical college students, you should pretty much expect them to look like they're not paying attention, even if they are. Doing something on your phone or laptop while listening to lecture is the norm, and students don't totally realize how visible it is to the lecturer. So don't be thrown off if it seems like they aren't paying attention to you. It likely has nothing to do with you as a presenter.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:57 PM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Students love a guest lecturer.

I'm adjunct faculty and teach a night class that's 3 hours long. Sometimes I bring in a guest lecturer just to break things up for a bit. Students always enjoy it and are wonderfully respectful.

Breathe deep. Keep a spare bottle of water under the lecturn. When you get bored of speaking, ask them questions. Student questions keep me on my toes.

Also, if you can be any career help to the students be prepared to give them your contact information.
posted by 26.2 at 3:50 PM on February 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, lots of good advice. Does anyone have any practical suggestions for how to loosen up the throat/voice before or during a speech (aside from taking deep breaths), and/or how to prevent freezing up/body language going mute?
posted by zeri at 5:55 PM on February 24, 2013

Hydrate well before the speech. If I drink enough during the day, my throat stays well lubed during the presentation.

Bring a cup of tea. Remember how all your profs carried a coffee cup? Warm fluids to keep the throat juicy.

Try to not get bound to the lecturn. I like to move across the room even if it means crossing in front of the white board or screen. When someone asks a question, walk to their side of the room to listen.

If you're fumbling with the PowerPoint, ask someone to run the slides for you. "I want to focus on you all and not the wireless mouse, can someone run this for me?"

Occasionally, I sit on the lab table.

I promise you - 3 minutes into this and you'll be moving naturally.
posted by 26.2 at 7:23 PM on February 24, 2013

Does anyone have any practical suggestions for how to loosen up the throat/voice before or during a speech (aside from taking deep breaths), and/or how to prevent freezing up/body language going mute?

honestly, get a nip of vodka and shoot it (or half) right before starting the lecture. i know this may sound a bit iffy, but it's just enough to loosen you up and get rid of the nervous physical symptoms and not make you all fuzzy. also, if you can call your doctor and get him to fax in a script to your pharmacy, see if he will prescribe you propranolol.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 1:03 PM on February 25, 2013

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