3 Ways to Get a Grip on Presentation Panic  

3 Ideas to Get a Grip on Presentation Panic

I know there are a billion presentation tips covering just about everything you need to know about effective communication. However, the topic I’d like to dive into today concerns a matter that typically fuels the fear of presenting.

What I am referring to of course is presentation panic. You know, sudden memory blackout. It is almost always accompanied by an intense feeling of despair which proceeds to flood every cell of your body.  This is every presenter’s worst nightmare–and for good reason.

This slip-up, if handled poorly, can seriously damage a speaker’s reputation, credibility and ultimately dash away any chance of hitting on whatever objective that presentation was created to fulfill.

If a speaker consistently falls into this nightmare scenario, they will no longer be trusted to advance their cause or voice any longer. So yes, the stakes are always high and concern matters of career advancement, building one’s business and success trajectory.

Enough of the fear mongering though!

We all know that presentation panic is undesirable. So what can be done to avoid this black-pit of failure?

Lucky for you, there are several types of advice that can address presentation panic for you so that it never–or very rarely–rears its ugly head towards you.    

Presentation Panic Tip No.1: Breath

Let’s address the obvious here. Memory blackout most often occurs when a person is “uncentered” in some way. What I mean by that is that their level of concentration drops or altogether disappears.

When the person tries to cue their memory back up to regain composure, they have nothing. Their mind has effectively shut down as their body readies itself for fight or flight.

ENTER the following: Perspiration, shaky voice and an altogether awkwardness that both the audience and speaker clearly begin to feel.

So how does a person become “uncentered” to the point of this scenario playing out?

In my opinion, pinpointing the root cause is in most cases very simple: NERVES & ANXIETY

Speaker concentration drops more often than not due to feelings of doubt, fear or general unease. Of course, all of those feelings are natural. The problem is when they build to the point of them no longer becoming manageable.

The best way to handle these nerves is through effective breathing.

Timeless Advice

We hear it all the time, “Just breathe.” “Take a deep breath.” “Breathe in, breathe out.” In fact, this type of guidance has existed for centuries. However, with the times we live in today, the science is catching up to what many would call classic anxiety quelling advice.

Science has arrived to tell us what we have known for centuries

A recent study conducted at Stanford University found definitive connections between how breathing influences our brain and in effect the state or of our emotions. Without diving in the study too deeply, the basic idea is that deep breathing can act as a regulator of certain neurons in our brain.

Neurons, of course, send out the orders to the rest of the body as far as how to behave or react to whatever stimuli we happen to encounter.

So returning to the issue of presentation blackout, if you lose your train of thought and are unable to get back on track, a lot of things will begin to occur.

Firstly, you will recognize the “perceived” helplessness of the situation. The neurons in your brain will begin firing and in most cases tell you that what is unfolding is NOT GOOD.

From there, more neurons will cue your heart-rate to pick up the pace. Same for your system which regulates adrenaline. When that protocol has been initiated, the fight or flight options will be readied. This is all desirable if you have, let’s say, a raging bull coming your way. This reaction is not so good if you are momentarily stuck in a presentation.   

What this study found was how and why deep breathing is able to effectively allow us to reign over the controls of our own minds. Effective deep-breathing transfers the power back to you in deciding when your body should or should not trigger physiological alarm bells.

This scientific backing gives added credence to the idea that we should all be looking into deep breathing techniques when wading into the world of presentation.

The big takeaway

When in rehearsal for your big presentation, be sure to practice deep breathing. Before your presentation, practice deep-breathing. If, disaster strikes and presentation panic starts to set-in, bust out your deep breathing.

In doing so, you will find your ability to regain composure and ultimately concentration enhance dramatically. From there, you can plot a course of action to get back on track without having a very public meltdown.

How can I learn more about deep breathing?

For the sake of keeping this post manageable in length and scope, I have thrown the deep-breathing techniques into my Speakers Resource Library. You can grab the FREE download here which breaks down a few deep breathing techniques that you can begin using immediately.

Now that you are armed with a scientifically-backed approach to taking on presentation panic, you are ready for the next actionable tip.


Presentation Panic Tip No.2: Use of Cue Cards

Let me be clear, I think the best approach to a world-class presentation is knowing your content thoroughly. When each idea you plan to express is internalized to the level beyond mere memorization, bouts of presentation panic are far less likely.

Being realistic

However, I get it. The time required to get to this stage does not always align with work deadlines or with the number of hours in a day, week or month.

Such level of preparation is usually reserved for massively important talks pertaining to keynote addresses, sales pitches, or any other stage where the stakes are clearly high.

Presentation panic on those stages could be utterly disastrous.   

As an aside, I did devote a post covering a memorization technique that is highly effective and scientifically backed. I highly suggest that you check it out as it feeds right into this notion of staving off presentation panic.

So, when your time is squeezed and you simply are without an adequate level of preparation time, the use of cue cards may be appropriate.

According to this humble presenter’s advice, however, utilizing cue cards does not mean:

*writing every word, sentence or idea onto the card.  

*reading incessantly from the card

*minimal rehearsal and heavy reliance on the cards for each idea you plan to communicate

Rather, cue cards should be used this way:

*a fallback option if presentation panic sets in and you are struggling to recover

*as a support for lengthy quotes

*as a support for complex ideas that are not your own

*reminders of critically important statistics you want your audience to hear and come to know

I feel the right approach is to practice your presentation as much as you can and use the cards as support (only as needed). They are not there to be used incessantly throughout your entire presentation.

However, if you fall into the trap of reading cue cards non-stop…

The effect you will likely have on the audience will be diluted or worse, damaging to your reputation. Ultimately, those types of presentations will render your ability to influence moot.  

How to make effective cue cards?

The process is not rocket science, however, there are some tips and tricks for creating your own cue cards that will help to ensure your ultimate success.

Freebies, Freebies and More Freebies

In striving to be a hub for not only great presentation insight and advice, my aim is to give you actionable resources to leverage your new found knowledge. I’ve created a cue card cheat sheet template for you to follow. It’ll show how to structure your cards and get the most out of them. You can grab it here!  

Resource Cheat Sheets


Presentation Panic Tip No.3: Be authentic

This last piece of advice relating to presentation panic is not going to make anyone jump out of their seat. I will acknowledge that in advance. Nonetheless, this final tip is critical to remember when faced with presentation missteps.

You are human. You are not a robot. By nature, you will have better days than others. It is not unrealistic to think that even skilled speakers will lose their train of thought during a presentation and go blank from time to time.

When this occurs, hopefully, advance planning, rehearsal, and technique will make up for it. When that is not happening fast enough though. It is okay to be “real”.

Be human  

It is perfectly acceptable to admit a slip-up to the audience. In doing so, you will probably find that the audience will get behind you even more. Ironically, your connection to them may well become stronger through your struggle.

Why? Everyone knows how tough presentations can be. Witnessing a speaking meltdown is highly uncomfortable for audiences too. Audience sympathy and understanding is a common sentiment during times like those.

So, when sinking or swimming are the only options, a quick, genuine comment acknowledging the situation followed by a deep breath or swig of water can do wonders as far as setting yourself up for a recovery and returning to your thoughts.

Let me add that speakers on the verge of losing it and then willing themselves to overcome is, unto itself, a mini story complete with a protagonist facing difficulty, a problem reaching a climax and ultimately a resolution.

We all know how powerful stories are in presentations. So, it’s no wonder that these moments can actually become rallying points. I’ve seen this happen and you probably have too. Triumphant presentation recoveries are often shared by both the speaker and audience.

I will say this again, be genuine, be honest. Admitting to a momentary struggle is ok. It’ll buy you some time to recover and probably win you some support.


Summing things up:

Presentation panic is a terrible feeling. It can come out of nowhere and be gone in a flash. However, if this notion is left unaddressed as far as advance planning or skill development, it can ravage presentations, careers, and businesses.

You owe it to yourself to be as ready as possible. One immediate step you can take is to grab my free resource which will provide you with insight on specific breathing techniques you can use right away. Secondly, I’ve created and included a cue card template for you to follow and use to create your own.

As always, I’d be honored if you shared your comments or felt inspired enough to blast any part of this post out into the social sphere!