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Help: I'm terrified to give a presentation at work

The question

I have to give a presentation at work but I'm terrified of public speaking. There's a lot riding on this presentation for me professionally. How can I be prepared?

The answer

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Public speaking is one of the most commonly reported fears in the general public. Giving a presentation is a very unnatural way to interact, when we consider that usual human interaction involves both giving and receiving verbal and nonverbal communication from others.

There are a number of things that can help make the presentation more bearable.

Before the presentation:

  • Ask yourself what your worst feared outcome is. Then ask yourself how likely it is that the worst-case scenario will happen, how often it has happened in the past and how you would deal with the situation if the worst thing did occur.
  • Be prepared for the presentation: If you’re using presentation slides, have them ready several days in advance and make speaking notes (even if you don’t use them it will help you feel more prepared and calm you).
  • If possible, try to get some time with your boss in advance to make sure you are on track with the presentation and see if he or she has suggestions for improvement.
  • Practice your presentation in front of a co-worker, family member or friend. This may create anxiety for you as well, but having a few runs at it in advance will go a long way toward building your confidence for the big day.
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before (you will probably be nervous, so try to have no caffeine, nicotine or alcohol the entire day prior to the presentation). Do something relaxing in the couple of hours before sleep.

Day of the presentation:

  • Get up early enough that you are not rushed. Being rushed in the morning will increase your baseline stress and increase anxiety during the presentation.
  • Practice deep breathing for five to 10 minutes before the presentation (breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, this will help slow your breathing pace down).
  • Start your talk with some humour or a joke to loosen the audience up. Saying you are a bit nervous can sometimes (ironically) help lessen anxiety, and also warm the audience up.
  • Take a glass of water with you. If you get nervous or forget what you were going to say you can pause and take a sip of your water.
  • Talk slowly and remember to breathe throughout.

Remind yourself that you are not alone in your fear, that your worst expected outcome is likely not going to happen, and that the presentation will soon be over. Over time, for most people, public speaking does become easier with practice.

Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic (by David H. Barlow and Michelle G. Craske) is an excellent workbook, available through most large bookstores, that helps you work on targeting anxiety in a step-by-step fashion.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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