Presentation Nerves – Part 1

by Peter Watts

In surveys of what we fear the most, Public Speaking ranks as number one! Fear prevents the discovery that presenting is a reachable skill with many rewards, not least those of challenging self-imposed limits, and beating them!

Nervousness isn’t limited to first-time presenters. Experienced speakers hesitate about presenting to groups outside their comfort zones; maybe to audiences that are larger, or more senior, or that include members of the media.

Feeling nervous about presenting is completely natural. Everybody feels the same way. Nerves are not a barrier; they are a hurdle we overcome and then move beyond.

Consider that when a speaker is going to call on someone to answer a question, audience members will look anywhere but at the speaker…. “Pleeeaaaasssse don’t call on me”.

Even from the anonymous safety of the herd, we mentally adopt the brace position rather than speak in public.

What might this say about how audiences regard presenters?

By being able to stand and speak, when the rest of the room believes they would die in the attempt, could it be that presenters attract support from those watching them?

Audiences want us to succeed; they become part of the adventure. Our success becomes their success, and when we look an audience in the eye we see that support, sustaining us through the presentation.

It’s an idea that can be difficult to accept. “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

The belief that all presenters feel nerves, that fears become friends when properly managed, and that audiences support us through presentations, are things we only discover through practical experience. We see it when we believe it, and to see it, we have to face the fear. Like plunging into the water during a day at the beach, we must face that first chill shock before we discover that not only is the temperature actually quite pleasant, but that the water supports us, and we float!

Presenting is the same. Each time you nerve yourself back into the water, you prove that yes you survive, and that no, a shark does not come and take your leg off!

Whether experienced presenter or novice, understanding the mechanics of presentation nerves and how to work with them is essential knowledge.

Every Monday, throughout February and March, The Presenters’ Blog will share with you how to do exactly that. We’ll detail how you can stretch your limits in comfort, controlling presentation nerves rather than being controlled by them.

Whatever your next challenge as a presenter, you can face it with confidence if you are aware of just a few basic techniques.

Mankind’s unique gift is the power of speech, and public speaking is within the power of us all.

Next Article on Monday February 9th: Breathe Yourself Calm


  1. Hi, Peter!

    Great entry. I agree that audiences tend to root for whomever is speaking. This is plainly evident by the sheer discomfort audiences feel when the speaker is uncomfortable and/or doing poorly. As Joseph Campbell tells us, as socialized human beings we mentally put ourselves in the place of the protagonist. In public speaking situations, our attention is drawn to the story of this speaker, who becomes our protagonist during the event. Obviously, an audience member has a vicarious evolutionary *need* to see our protagonist succeed — because the protagonist IS the audience member (in the latter’s subconscious thinking).

    Seeing the protagonist succeed also gives us courage to go out and succeed ourselves in similar situations. It is inspirational to see an effective speaker — and think, I can do that!

    Many thanks for shedding light on this important — and oft overlooked — aspect of public speaking.

    Joe Stanganelli
    Beacon Hill Law

    • Hi Joe

      This is an important insight into the mechanism of why audiences support speakers, and many thanks for raising it. With regard to what the audience is thinking, many presenters allow their imaginations to run away with them during presentations. “They don’t like me, they’re bored!”

      Your comment however, provides the science as to why the opposite is true, and that if we could only listen-in to the thoughts of our audiences, we would actually like what we hear.

      Thanks for your comment Joe. It’s great to hear from you!

  2. Hi Rob. Thank you so much for your support. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

    All best regards


  1. social development…

    Most people don’t know what they are talking about. You seem to have thought this through completely. Good Job!…

  2. subconscious says:


    There is little else to say after that, huh?…

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