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How to Stop Freaking Out and Nail Your Presentation

Written by Chris D’Alessandro
how to nail your presentation

You hear presentation, but your brain hears SABRE-TOOTHED TIGER! Why? Because your brain is still basically wired the same as it was in cave-people days. So…how exactly are you, with the brain of a cave-person, expected to nail your presentation?

Sure, you know how to send a text and make toast, but somewhere in the back of your mind is the legitimate fear that you might be eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger in five minutes from now. It’s why we procrastinate, why we binge, why we cheat, and why we panic.

In today’s world, we’re not often presented with actual life-threatening, physical danger. Instead, we’re made to tackle challenges that our parents, our teachers and our peers have told us are extremely important and will hugely impact our lives. Society has made “tests” into do or die situations.

Your brain closes the Normal Life app and launches Don’t Die.docx.


Your brain has its finger constantly hovering over this emergency button. You know, the one that sends your body into panic/survival mode. Your heart rate increases, your palms get sweaty, you’ll breathe quickly or even hyperventilate and, almost definitely, trip over your words and forget what you were going to say next. Your brain closes the Normal Life app and launches Don’t Die.docx. If nothing else, just know that the anxiety you feel over trying to nail your presentation is all completely natural and it’s done to help keep you alive. You’d be weird if you weren’t freaking out.

So…how exactly do you stop freaking out and nail your presentation?

Become an Expert

Studying is boring. We know. But the better you know a subject, the easier it is talk or write about. The more knowledgable, familiar and comfortable you are with a subject, the less scary it becomes. It’s not rocket science (unless your exam or presentation is on literal rocket science, then it’s totally rocket science).

Think about if you’ve ever tried to be part of a conversation you know nothing about. It’s exhausting just to try and fake your way through it. On the other hand, when the conversation is about sports, or video games, or cars, or fashion, or movies, or cat videos or whatever that thing is that you’re obsessed with, it’s easy. You sound like an expert because you are one. You know every fact, every detail and you can convey them with relative confidence.

It’s about more than just being able to regurgitate facts, it’s about being generally well-rounded in a subject.

Don’t Rehearse

This is not the same as “don’t prepare”. You were just told you should study your ass off and become as knowledgable as possible about your given subject. What “don’t rehearse” means is, “don’t try to memorize something word for word”.

As soon as you forget what to say next, and you will (it doesn’t matter how many times you practice in the mirror the night before), you’re going to start to panic.

During a presentation, you obviously don’t want to sound like Donald Trump, prattling on incoherently about stuff you don’t know anything about—but you also don’t need to sound as articulate and precise as Barack Obama, who has the luxury of a teleprompter (which you will not have).

You should have a basic outline of where you’re going and the key points you need to cover, but if you try to deliver a perfectly crafted word-for-word speech like the kind you were made to in elementary school, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

As soon as you forget what to say next, and you will (it doesn’t matter how many times you practice in the mirror the night before), you’re going to start to panic. You’ll be right back into lizard-brain survival mode, unable to think about anything other than fight or flight.

PRO TIP: This doesn’t mean read off your PowerPoint slides. Give a basic overview of the key information on each slide, and use them more as a “cheat sheet” to make sure you’ve covered all the essential info you needed to.

Take the Presentation Off the Pedestal

It’s okay to fail. Seriously, unless it’s surgery, it’s not life or death, and you’ll get another shot at some point as long as you keep applying yourself.

You’re going to send out resumes with typos, bomb interviews, forget important dates, drop plates full of food all over yourself…

Because everybody got a trophy at house league soccer, we’ve never been conditioned to failure, and it only adds to the ‘do-or-die’ nature of tests. But the truth is that in this life, you’re going fail and you’re going to face rejection. A lot.

You’re going to send out resumes with typos, bomb interviews,  forget important dates, drop plates full of food all over yourself, and so on. It happens. You’re human. You will live and grow.

So take a breath and don’t give a presentation or exam more power than it deserves. You will look back on it one day as an unimportant event, if you even remember it all.

As a practical approach, start explaining your newfound knowledge to friends. The best way to learn a subject is to teach it, so start casually explaining what you’ve learned, even if it has to be to your cat while no one is watching. Not only are you actively becoming more familiar with the subject matter, you’re becoming more comfortable with that material and not “rehearsing”.

See how this is all coming together?

Find Ways to Relax

Socialize with friends. Play video games. Do yoga. Drink tea. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep well. Netflix and chill. Just unwind and try to keep your cool as much as possible without neglecting your preparation.

If you’ve done everything right, you won’t feel the need to scramble and prepare the night before. Going in with a calm mindset is half the battle (and that’s the second reference to after school specials in this article).

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