Tips for calming your nerves before big presentations

By Lauren Povey

As a small business owner, you need to be confident in yourself and your abilities. If you normally feel self-assured but become overwhelmed by nerves when you have to present to investors, potential customers or your clients, there are techniques that you can use to put a stop to this debilitating worry, so it doesn’t have such an effect on you and on your business.

As a cognitive behavioral therapist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, I have outlined different strategies that are commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that you can use to shake off your anxiety and go into meetings feeling poised and positive instead.

Change how you think about the business presentation

In the run-up to a business meeting, do you typically think about everything that could go wrong?

It is important to recognize that these thoughts (which you believe to be facts) about how an upcoming presentation will go, are the triggers that cause you to become nervous. By learning how to pinpoint, challenge and move on from these thoughts, you can stop yourself from being so affected by nerves before and during your presentations.

Every evening, go through the negative thoughts you had that day and reframe them in order to master the technique. When doing this, jot down the following points:

– What caused you to become anxious during the day? Was it when you were planning slides for a presentation, or when you were speaking to someone about a future meeting?

– What was running through your mind at that moment? Did you think that you weren’t good enough, or that people would think you were a fraud?

– What impact could these thoughts have on you in the long run? Could your nerves and negative thoughts stop you from performing at your best in future presentations? Could they cause you to lose faith in yourself, and damage your self-confidence?

– How could you challenge your initial negative thought? Think about the times that you have performed well in the past, and remember that you are a specialist in your field, are confident in your abilities and proud of your business

– How could you change the initial thought you had so that it would be more realistic and healthy? Remember that this meeting is an exciting opportunity and is your chance to show off your business. You have performed well in presentations in the past, and will put in every effort to effectively showcase your message in this one

– Think about how you will respond to the negative thought when it next appears – make an effort to challenge and move past the negative thought next time it arises, using the information you have put together during this exercise to think positively instead

By practicing this technique every evening, you can learn how to identify and move past negative thoughts the moment that they appear, so they don’t have the chance to overwhelm you and make you nervous.

Visualize your business meeting success

Visualization allows us to make sense of upcoming events, which we would otherwise be uncertain and nervous about. When you form a mental image of a future business meeting, do you typically imagine it going horribly wrong rather than envisioning it going well? If so, this can leave you feeling anxious about the upcoming event as you believe that the worst possible scenario will happen even before you step foot into the meeting.

Take time out of your week to visualize any future presentations you have, and envisage them going well. To help you to really focus, find a quiet spot, get comfortable, close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. Imagine yourself in the upcoming meeting. What you will see, hear, feel and even smell? Who will you be presenting to? What will you be wearing and how will your hair be styled? Make it feel as though you are actually there.

If you are concerned about how you’ll present a particular piece of information, imagine yourself doing so clearly and confidently. If you have been envisioning a disengaged audience, envision yourself engaging them with questions and drawing them in with your presentation. If you are worried about the whole meeting, run through the entire presentation, imagining yourself poised and professional throughout.

Regularly visualizing upcoming presentations can act as a mental rehearsal. You get to run through the meeting and actually see how it can go well. This in turn can help you to believe that the presentation can be successful, helping you to leave your negative thoughts and nerves behind.

Don’t let your inner critic take over

Your critical inner voice can become more intense in the run-up to high-pressure situations, like business presentations. If before and during a meeting, your inner critic tells you how badly everything will go or is going, this will do nothing to suppress your nerves and improve your self-confidence.

It’s important to try to actively swap your negative inner dialogue for positive self-talk. Take the time to think about typical statements that your inner bully tells you, and have statements ready to silence it.

In preparation for a presentation, learn mantras such as: “I will impress” or “I’m going to do my best.” Also, have instructional phrases ready for during the presentation, like “keep going,” “sit up straight” and “stay professional.” After the meeting, have mantras to repeat such as “that went well” or “I’m proud of what I achieved” to stop the inner critic from causing you to feel anxious once the presentation is over too.

When your anxiety gets too much…

If you ever think that the anxiety that you feel is becoming worse and is having a negative impact on your work, relationships and lifestyle, it is recommended that you visit your doctor. By discussing the symptoms and the impact that your anxiety is having on your life, they can provide you with the relevant support or treatment that you may need.


Lauren Povey is a cognitive behavioral therapist working at Priory Hospital Chelmsford in the UK. Lauren works with people on a one-to-one basis as well as in a group setting, facilitating the CBT groups, anxiety pathway groups, emotion regulation workshops and assertion groups at the hospital.

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