How to avoid panic in presentations coping with questions

How to avoid panic in presentations coping with questions

I’ve been doing a lot of presenting recently, and I have no problem admitting that it’s tough. For those not born with natural eloquence, public speaking can be remarkably nerve-racking.

We can’t all deliver the next Gettysburg Address, but there are several small things you can do prior to your next big presentation that will help calm your nerves and set you up for optimal oration.

1. Practice. Naturally, you’ll want to rehearse your presentation multiple times. While it can be difficult for those with packed schedules to spare time to practice, it’s essential if you want to deliver a rousing presentation. If you really want to sound great, write out your speech rather than taking chances winging it.

Try to practice where you’ll be delivering your talk. Some acting strategists suggest rehearsing lines in various positions-standing up, sitting down, with arms open wide, on one leg, while sitting on the toilet, etc. (OK, that last one may be optional.) The more you mix up your position and setting, the more comfortable you’ll feel with your speech. Also try recording your presentation and playing it back to evaluate which areas need work. Listening to recordings of your past talks can clue you in to bad habits you may be unaware of, as well as inspiring the age-old question: “Is that what I really sound like?”

2. Transform Nervous Energy Into Enthusiasm. It may sound strange, but I’ll often down an energy drink and blast hip-hop music in my earphones before presenting. Why? It pumps me up and helps me turn jitters into focused enthusiasm. Studies have shown that an enthusiastic speech can win out over an eloquent one, and since I’m not exactly the Winston Churchill of presenters, I make sure that I’m as enthusiastic and energetic as possible before going on stage. Of course, individuals respond differently to caffeine overload, so know your own body before guzzling those monster energy drinks.

3. Attend Other Speeches. If you’re giving a talk as part of a larger series, try to attend some of the earlier talks by other presenters. This shows respect for your fellow presenters while also giving you a chance to feel out the audience. What’s the mood of the crowd? Are folks in the mood to laugh or are they a bit more stiff? Are the presentations more strategic or tactical in nature? Another speaker may also say something that you can play off of later in your own presentation.

4. Arrive Early. It’s always best to allow yourself plenty of time to settle in before your talk. Extra time ensures you won’t be late (even if Google Maps shuts down) and gives you plenty of time to get adapted to your presentation space.

5. Adjust to Your Surroundings. The more adjusted to your environment you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Make sure to spend some in the room where you will be delivering your presentation. If possible, practice with the microphone and lighting, make sure you understand the seating, and be aware of any distractions potentially posed by the venue (e.g., a noisy road outside).

6. Meet and Greet. Do your best to chat with people before your presentation. Talking with audiences makes you seem more likeable and approachable. Ask event attendees questions and take in their responses. They may even give you some inspiration to weave into your talk.

7. Use Positive Visualization. Whether or not you consider yourself a master of Zen, know that plenty of studies have proven the effectiveness of positive visualization. When we imagine a positive outcome to a scenario in our mind, it’s more likely to play out the way we envision.

Instead of thinking “I’m going to be terrible out there” and visualizing yourself throwing up mid-presentation, imagine yourself getting tons of laughs while presenting with the enthusiasm of Jimmy Fallon and the poise of Audrey Hepburn (the charm of George Clooney wouldn’t hurt either). Positive thoughts can be incredibly effective-give them a shot.

8. Take Deep Breaths. The go-to advice for jitters has truth to it. When we’re nervous, our muscles tighten-you may even catch yourself holding your breath. Instead, go ahead and take those deep breaths to get oxygen to your brain and relax your body.

9. Smile. Smiling increases endorphins, replacing anxiety with calm and making you feel good about your presentation. Smiling also exhibits confidence and enthusiasm to the crowd. Just don’t overdue it-no one enjoys the maniacal clown look.

10. Exercise. Exercise earlier in the day prior to your presentation to boost endorphins, which will help alleviate anxiety. Better pre-register for that Zumba class!

11. Work on Your Pauses. When you’re nervous, it’s easy to speed up your speech and end up talking too fast, which in turn causes you to run out of breath, get more nervous, and panic! Ahh!

Don’t be afraid to slow down and use pauses in your speech. Pausing can be used to emphasize certain points and to help your talk feel more conversational. If you feel yourself losing control of your pacing, just take a nice pause and keep cool.

12. Use a Power Stance. Practicing confident body language is another way to boost your pre-presentation jitters. When your body is physically demonstrating confidence, your mind will follow suit. While you don’t want to be jutting out your chest in an alpha gorilla pose all afternoon (somebody enjoyed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a bit too much), studies have shown that using power stances a few minutes before giving a talk (or heading to a nerve-racking interview) creates a lasting sense of confidence and assurance. Whatever you do, don’t sit-sitting is passive. Standing or walking a bit will help you harness those stomach bats (isn’t that more appropriate than butterflies?). Before you go on stage, strike your best Power Ranger stance and hold your head high!

13. Drink Water. Dry mouth is a common result of anxiety. Prevent cottonmouth blues by staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water before your talk (just don’t forget to hit the bathroom before starting). Keep a bottle of water at arm’s reach while presenting in case you get dry mouth while chatting up a storm. It also provides a solid object to hurl at potential hecklers. (That’ll show ’em.)

14. Join Toastmasters. Toastmaster clubs are groups across the country (and the world) dedicated to helping members improve their public speaking skills. Groups get together during lunch or after work to take turns delivering short talks on a chosen topic. The more you present, the better you’ll be, so consider joining a Toastmaster club to become a top-notch orator. Just don’t forget, it’s BYOB (Bring Your Own Bread).

15. Don’t Fight the Fear. Accept your fear rather than trying to fight it. Getting yourself worked up by wondering if people will notice your nervousness will only intensify your anxiety. Remember, those jitters aren’t all bad-harness that nervous energy and transform it into positive enthusiasm and you’ll be golden. We salute you, O Captain! My Captain!

How to avoid panic in presentations coping with questions

Before you jump onstage or in front of the room to deliver an important presentation, do you experience physical or emotional symptoms like nausea, sweaty palms, anxiety, or feelings of panic? It may not be so extreme for you, but it happens to millions of people everywhere.

Ten years ago, I checked into the ER before one of my very first speaking engagements thinking I was having a heart attack. The electrocardiogram showed that my heart was as strong as ever. What had happened?

I had had a panic attack — a sudden, overwhelming surge of anxiety and fear that mimics a heart attack. Numerous speaking engagements later, I managed to learn how to control feelings that commonly led to speaking anxiety.

Nine Ways to Help Reduce Presentation Anxiety

Some people rank the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death! It is very real and can be debilitating. Even billionaire Warren Buffett admits that he was “terrified” of public speaking early in his career. He decided that to reach his full potential, he had to overcome his fear of it. If you are faced with a similar challenge, there are several techniques to help you overcome your fears.

David Greenberg, president and CEO of Simply Speaking and author of the bestseller Simply Speaking! The No-Sweat Way to Prepare and Deliver Presentations, is a foremost expert on this topic. He has been coaching and training leaders from top companies to transform their presentations since 1988.

Greenberg offers nine helpful strategies to eliminate presentation or “speech” anxiety.

1. Accept that being nervous is not a bad thing.

Greenberg says, “Being nervous means you care about giving a good presentation. Your nervousness produces adrenaline, which helps you think faster, speak more fluently,
and add the needed enthusiasm to convey your message.”

2. Don’t try to be perfect.

Greenberg explains that the fear of public speaking often stems from a fear of imperfection. He urges us to “accept the fact that no one ever gets it perfect and neither will you.” Rather than striving to become a “super-speaker,” Greenberg’s simple advice is to just be yourself. “Your audience will appreciate it,” he says.

3. Know your subject matter.

One must “earn the right,” says Greenberg, to speak on a particular topic. “Become an authority on your topic and know more than most or all of the people in your audience. The more you know, the more confident you will be,” he says.

4. Engage your audience.

Audience involvement is key. Ask your audience questions or have them participate in an activity to hold their attention. Greenberg says that turning your presentation from monologue to dialogue helps reduce your nervousness and engages the audience.

5. Breathe.

Breathing from your stomach muscles, not your chest, calms the nervous system. Here’s what to do: Take a few deep breaths before and even during your presentation. “As you inhale,” says Greenberg, “say to yourself ‘I am,’ and as you exhale, say ‘relaxed.'”

6. Visualize your success.

Close your eyes and picture yourself delivering your talk with confidence and
enthusiasm. What does the room look like? What do the people look like? How do you
look? “Picture your successful presentation in detail and allow your mind to help turn your
picture into a reality,” says Greenberg.

7. Practice out loud.

The best way to reduce your anxiety is to rehearse until you feel comfortable, advises Greenberg. “Practicing by yourself is important,” he says, “but I urge you to also practice in front of a friend, colleague, or coach who will give you honest and constructive feedback.”

8. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Caffeinated drinks can increase your heart rate, make you jittery, and cause your hands to shake, which gives your audience the impression you’re a nervous wreck. And, it goes without saying, drinking alcohol to cope with your fears will increase your chances of forgetting things and slurring your words.

9. Make eye contact.

Greenberg suggests arriving early when the room is full of empty chairs and practicing by “pretending that you are looking into people’s eyes.” When you begin your talk, pick a few friendly faces in different areas of the room. Says Greenberg, “Not only will the audience appreciate it, but also you will see that they are interested in your message. Add a smile and you are bound to see some in return.”

Megan Monahan is a certified meditation instructor and has studied under Dr. Deepak Chopra. She is also the author of the book, Don’t Hate, Meditate.

How to avoid panic in presentations coping with questions

If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, then you have likely experienced constant feelings of fear and anxiety. Research has shown that using relaxation techniques can help reduce nervousness and improve your relaxation response. By enhancing your relaxation skills, you are can lower your flight-or-fight response that is often triggered during times of increased anxiety and panic attacks.

Some common relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and meditation. These techniques are relatively easy to learn and can be practiced on a daily basis to assist with getting through panic attacks.

What Is Visualization?

Visualization is another powerful technique that can help you unwind and relieve stress. Visualization involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind. Similar to daydreaming, visualization is accomplished through the use of your imagination.

There are several reasons why visualization can help you cope with panic disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. Consider how your thoughts wander when you feel panic or anxiety. When experiencing a panic attack, your mind may focus on the worry, the worst things that can happen and other cognitive distortions that only add to your sense of fearfulness.

Visualization works to expand your ability to rest and relax by focusing your mind on more calming and serene images.

Before beginning any of these visualization exercises, make sure your environment is set up for your comfort. To better relax, eliminate any distractions, such as phones, pets or television. Try to find a quiet place where you will most likely be undisturbed. Remove any heavy jewelry or restricting clothing, such as tight belts or scarves. Get ready to relax by either sitting or lying down in a position that feels most comfortable to you.

To begin, it can be helpful to slow your breathing down with a deep-breathing technique. Close your eyes and try to let go of any tension you may be feeling throughout your body. To relax your body and mind even further, it may also be beneficial to try a progressive muscle relaxation exercise before you begin your visualization. Try to set aside about five to 15 minutes to visualize.

The Serene Beach Scene

The following is a beach scene visualization exercise that you can practice on your own. Beach scenes are one of the most popular visualizations due to their calming and tranquil impact. Feel free to change it to better suit your needs and imagination. Use this visualization to relax, unwind and briefly escape from your day-to-day tasks.

Visualization Exercise: White Sandy Beach

Imagine that you are resting on a white sandy beach and feel safe, calm, and relaxed as you think about the following:

  • Turquoise water and a clear, blue sky
  • The sound of soft waves as the tide gently rolls in
  • The weight of your body sinking into your beach chair
  • The warmth of the sand on your feet
  • A large umbrella keeping you slightly shaded, creating just the right temperature

Relax your face and let go of any tension in your forehead, between your eyebrows, your neck, and your throat. Soften your eyes and rest. Allow your breath to slow down and match the rolling waves of the water. There is no effort to be here; spend time just taking it all in.

Once this relaxation feels complete, imagine that you get up and slowly walk away from the beach. Remember that this beautiful place is here for you whenever you need to come back. Take your time and slowly open your eyes.

Use Your Own Creativity

If the beach scene doesn’t really fit you, try coming up with your own visualization. Think of a place or situation that you find to be very relaxing, such as lying down in a large field of flowers and grass, or enjoying a beautiful view of a mountain or forest. When visualizing your calming scene, think about what you are experiencing through all of your senses. Notice what you hear, smell, taste and how your body feels. When you feel ready to leave your relaxation scene, take your time and gradually return your mind to the present.

To get better at visualization, try practicing at least several times a day. Relaxation techniques tend to be more helpful if you first start practicing at a time when you are not experiencing high anxiety. Through regular practice, you will more easily be able to use visualization when you really need it, such as when you start feeling the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety.

Many otherwise extremely competent and confident presenters will tell you that they really dread the question and answer session of a presentation.

They seek ways to ‘avoid’ difficult questions. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Dealing with questions in a presentation is a skill which anyone can master.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that, as a general rule, if people ask you questions, even hostile ones, it’s not to trip you up but because they genuinely want the answer.

Staying in Control of the Questions

Most people dread the question session because they fear losing control.

A little thought and some early planning can avoid this risk. But you can also avoid it by remembering that any presentation is an information exchange. It is as much for you to hear what people want to know as for them to hear from you.

However, if your presentation starts to get diverted by an interesting question, try saying something like:

“I think we’re getting a bit off topic here. Let’s put that to one side and you and I can chat about it later. Come and find me at the end and we’ll exchange contact details.”

“I’d really like to get on with the presentation, otherwise I may not have time to finish, but let’s talk about this later.”

Setting out some Ground Rules

At the start of your presentation, you should make it clear whether and when you would prefer to deal with questions – as you go along or at the end of the presentation.

Some speakers prefer questions to be raised as they arise during the presentation. The advantage of this approach is that any misunderstandings can be dealt with immediately. However, there is also a danger that the question will disrupt or distract the speaker, or that questions are raised that would have been covered later in the presentation.

Top tip! Categorising Questions

If you like to deal with questions as they arise, but you are concerned about the pitfalls, there is an easy way to handle this. In your introduction, explain that there are three types of questions:

    The sort that seeks clarification of something that has just been said – you will answer those immediately;

The sort that asks a related question about something that you plan to cover later – you will answer those later in the presentation; and

  • The sort that is best dealt with offline because most of the audience probably won’t be interested, or it’s outside the topic of the presentation – you will make a note of the question and come back to the questioner afterwards.
  • When a Type 2 or 3 question is asked, you can then say something like:

    That’s a Type 2 question, so I’ll park that for now, and cover it later. If you don’t think I’ve covered it by the end, remind me, and I’ll go over it.”

    Other speakers prefer to deal with questions at the end of the presentation.

    If you prefer this approach, ensure that you set aside sufficient time for questions but also limit the amount of time available. The amount of time will depend on the type of presentation you are giving but usually 10 minutes of question time should be sufficient.

    The big advantage of this approach is that if you talk too quickly, you will simply have a longer question session: a big incentive to talk slowly and carefully, and make sure that your audience understands everything as you go.

    You should not close the presentation with the question and answer session.

    When you have finished answering questions, make sure that you have the last word with a strong assertion of your main message(s).

    In other words, you can thank the audience for their questions and then summarise once again the main point or points that your presentation was designed to communicate.

    An Introduction to Question Sessions

    The main rule of question sessions is to treat your audience with the respect you would like to have shown to you, and answer their questions directly and honestly.

    If they have asked a question, it is because they want to know the answer.

    It is very unlikely that anyone will ask a question solely to trip you up, although this does happen.

    If a question is provocative, answer it directly. Never be rude to the questioner or show you are upset. Do not compromise yourself but maintain your point of view and never lose your temper.

    This tactic can be difficult to maintain but the key is being assertive.

    Visit our section on assertiveness to learn some more tips, start with: Assertiveness – An Introduction.

    Managing Questions

    Listen carefully to the question and, if the audience is large, repeat it to ensure everyone in the audience has heard.

    If you’re not sure you understood correctly, paraphrase it back to the questioner and check that you have it right. Answer briefly and to the point.

    If you do not know the answer, then say so and offer to find out. Then ensure that you follow up. To be able to respond, you will need the questioner’s name and email address, so make sure that you speak to them before they or you leave.

    I don’t know” is a very acceptable answer to some difficult questions and it is much more acceptable than stumbling through an answer or making something up. “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and let you know” is even more acceptable.

    Relax and do not feel as if you have to know everything. If you don’t know it is better to be honest than to try to pretend.

    Trust takes a long time to build up, but it can be lost in moments, and audiences will almost always know when you are not being genuine.

    An Alternative Tactic: Involving your Audience

    If you are speaking to a well-informed audience, a professional group for example , and the question is a fairly general one to which you do not know the answer, consider asking the room if anyone else would like to respond. You may have the world expert on that subject sitting there who would be delighted to share their expertise with you all. If you have noticed someone in particular, you can even say:

    I noticed that Professor X is in the room, so I wonder if he would like to comment on that to save me displaying my ignorance

    My colleague over there is more familiar with that area than I am so, while I don’t want to put him on the spot, maybe he would be prepared to shed some light on this?

    Most people will be fine with that approach, especially if they really do know more about it than you, and it will mean that the room gets a much better response. Yes, you’re the one standing at the front, but you don’t know everything.

    You may also find our general pages on questioning useful see Questioning and Question Types.

    How are you handling difficult questions in your presentations?

    So you’ve spent hours preparing your slides, practicing in front of the mirror, and learning the material you are presenting inside and out. The big presentation comes and you breeze through it confidently and calmly. You are about to finish up and just quickly ask the audience if there are any questions.

    “Any questions? Ok, if not then…”

    The difficult questions then arrive, one after another. Questions that you are not prepared for, don’t have the answers to, are not completely clear as to what they mean, etc. It has happened to us of all in one form or another, and is perfectly normal to presenters of all experience levels. What helps separate good presenters from “not so good” presenters is the ability in handling difficult questions professionally and effectively. Here are some quick tips to help.
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    When handling difficult questions…

    Thank the person for their question

    “Thank you for your question.”
    “That is a really good question and I am glad you asked it.”

    Clarify that you understand the question if necessary (or to buy some time to come up with a good answer).

    “So, if I understand you correctly, you are asking me if we…….”
    “Just to make sure I give you the correct answer, are you saying that if……”

    Answer with one of the 3 options depending on the question:

    Admit that you don’t know the answer and turn it over to the audience to help.

    “I’m afraid that isn’t my area of expertise, but I am sure someone else here may know the answer to that.”
    “Can anyone help answer that question?”

    Admit that someone you work with would be better suited to answer that, and you will consult with them and get back to the person.

    “Unfortunately I don’t have the answer for that now, but I have a colleague that can answer that question. Can we meet after the presentation and exchange contact details? I will then ask him and get you the answer right away.”

    You need more information on the question, it is a private question, or you don’t have the time to answer it in front of the whole audience. Ask to meet later.

    “I think it would be better if I got a little more information from you to help answer that question. Can we meet after the presentation at lunch? I would be happy to get you more information then.”

    Example

    Question: “Do you have the latest forecast sales figures for the 3rd quarter?”

    Answer: “Thanks for your question. Just to make sure I give you the correct answer, are you asking for the forecast sales figures for the German location or the total figures worldwide? (Clarification given by person who asked question) Unfortunately I don’t have the answer for that now, but I have a colleague who can answer that question. Can we meet after the presentation and exchange contact details? I will then ask him and get you the answer right away. (Person agrees) Great, thanks for the question. Any other questions?”

    Keeping these things in mind when handling difficult questions in presentations will allow you to seem more prepared and make your presentation go more smoothly. Want more info on how to be a better presenter? Click here.

    Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

    Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, are characterized by significant fear and nervousness often accompanied by uncomfortable physical symptoms. The symptoms of panic disorder are often difficult to manage, and dealing with panic attacks and agoraphobia is even more challenging when you’re in public.  

    Your anxiety about it may never fully go away, but you can learn to more effectively manage your symptoms in a way that will allow you to feel more safe and secure when facing public situations. Here are some tips.

    Practice Breathing

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    When symptoms begin to arise, your breathing is often the first change that occurs in your body. Shortness of breath and hyperventilation are some of the most common physical symptoms of panic and anxiety.   But experiencing accelerated breathing in public can make you feel more alarmed and potentially increase your feelings of anxiety.

    Breathing exercises can help you to slow your breath down, eliciting feelings of calm and relaxation. Deep breathing can also greatly help keep other symptoms from escalating, such as rapid heart rate or chest pain.  

    In order to be prepared to use this technique during a panic attack, it’s important that you practice at times when you’re not experiencing high anxiety.

    For example, you may want to start your day off with a few minutes of deep breathing, use it to recharge in the afternoon, or practice this exercise in the evening to unwind from the day and prepare for a ​better night’s rest.

    Increase Your Awareness

    Panic attacks are often accompanied by unpleasant thoughts and fear-based perceptions. When symptoms escalate, you may become afraid that you’ll need immediate medical care; for example, you could be afraid that you’re having a heart attack.   The more you focus on these negative thoughts, the more your fears and symptoms may intensify.

    You can become so afraid of your symptoms that you believe you’re going to lose control, go insane, or even die. These distressing thoughts and symptoms are often amplified when experiencing a panic attack in public.

    In order to gain control over these thoughts, you must first become aware of them. Practicing mindfulness is a way that you can learn to acknowledge your thoughts without letting them take over your emotions and behaviors.   Through mindfulness practices, you can increase your self-awareness to become better prepared to handle your symptoms in public.

    Bring a Friend

    When faced with public situations that trigger anxiety and panic attacks, it can be extremely beneficial to deal with it while accompanied by a trusted loved one. Through social support, you can feel more secure and relaxed in public.  

    Prepare the person you’re with by explaining your symptoms and fears to them. Come up with a game plan that can include recognizing your symptoms as they occur, utilizing coping strategies to get through a panic attack, and preparing to leave a place or situation if needed.

    Visualize a Positive Outcome

    If you dread being in public, you may have already made up your mind that the experience can only be negative. However, the way you feel in public may be influenced by your negative perceptions and predictions.

    Visualization is a technique you can use to overcome these limiting beliefs and increase your self-reliance while being in public.  

    Visualization involves closing your eyes and envisioning yourself in different circumstances. Through visualization, you can imagine what it would be like to successfully manage your anxiety while in public. Similar to daydreaming, this exercise allows you to tap into your senses and imagination to see yourself achieving positive outcomes.

    For example, you may visualize yourself utilizing your coping techniques to face public situations with more relaxed confidence. By visualizing success, you may feel more ready to deal with your symptoms in public.

    Get Help With Agoraphobia

    Panic disorder is currently diagnosed as occurring with or without agoraphobia, a separate condition that is characterized by an extreme fear of having a panic attack in public places or situations in which it would be difficult and/or embarrassing to flee.  

    If you have agoraphobia, you’ll often develop extreme avoidance behaviors in which you sidestep many circumstances in order to feel safe. For example, you may avoid public transportation and crowds. In more severe cases, you can become homebound with agoraphobia.

    If you believe agoraphobia is preventing you from feeling comfortable in public, it’s important to seek professional help.

    The sooner you begin an appropriate treatment plan, the quicker you will be able to manage your condition.

    Take It Slow and Set Goals

    Those with panic disorder with agoraphobia should take caution at rushing into feared situations. When learning to more confidently deal with your symptoms in public, set a realistic goal for how long you want to be in a public situation. Be sure to limit the time you’re out, take it slow, and gradually work up to longer exposures.

    A technique known as imaginal desensitization can be a helpful way to gradually overcome situations you’ve avoided.   This self-help technique can help you unlearn fears and overcome situations that seem to trigger panic and anxiety. Through the use of visualization and other anxiety management techniques, imaginal desensitization allows you to gradually face and overcome fears associated with managing panic disorder in public.

    By Anett Grant

    A few years ago, I had a terrifying experience while diving with sharks in the Maldives. The instructor told me, “You go first. And dive down quickly—the currents are big today.” I felt a pang of anxiety—I was used to going down slowly. Still, I dove in. When my descent ended, I looked around and saw nothing but deep blue around me. Since I had been the first to jump in, I had no reference point—nothing but blue above me, below me, ahead of me, and behind me. I had been diving for decades, but for the first time, I felt an incredible sense of panic. It wasn’t until I looked on my depth gauge that the anxiety subsided a little. By keeping my vision trained on my depth gauge, something familiar to focus on, I was able to stay calm until the other divers entered the water.

    Perhaps you feel the same way I felt underwater whenever you speak in front of a crowd. You get a similar feeling of panic, of disorientation. To overcome these feelings, you need to find your own depth gauge to focus on. You need to give your brain something to do other than ruminate over your insecurities.

    Here are five strategies to focus on that will alleviate your speaking anxiety:

    1. Become more conscious of your feelings

    One of the ways you can overcome your speaking anxiety is by becoming more aware of the warning signs of anxiety so you can intervene early. Think of anxiety as a wave. If you wait too long to react, the wave is going to overtake you. What feelings and physical reactions do you experience when anxiety hits? Do your hands begin to shake? Do you have a sick feeling in your stomach? Does your chest begin to tighten? Tune into your body to explore when the feelings begin. The earlier you notice the anxiety, the more time you have to do something about it.

    2. Don’t write out your script

    Another strategy for dealing with speaking anxiety is to stop writing out scripts for your presentations. You might think, “But wait! I need my script so that I don’t forget anything!” However, using a script can actually contribute to feelings of anxiety.

    Of course, you need to practice what you’re going to say as much as possible. But don’t become too obsessive about remembering everything word for word. If you do, anxiety will set in the second you forget exactly how you phrased something the week or the night before. What word did I use again? Wait, did I just repeat myself? There’s only one point left, right? And so on. If the only way you can present effectively is by memorizing a script, you’re setting yourself up for an avalanche of anxiety if you forget something. The solution is to find a middle ground between rigidity and completely winging it. Be prepared with a general structure and key points to your presentation, but give yourself room to speak off the cuff too. When you stop obsessing over scripts, you’ll feel freer and less anxious. And don’t be afraid to use technology as a tool in speech prompting!

    3. Build rhythm into your speaking

    I once worked with a client who constantly paced whenever he spoke. When I asked him why he paced so much, he told me that the rhythm of pacing calmed him down. While it was good that he found a solution to deal with his speaking anxiety, he found the wrong solution. Yes, he was calm, but his audiences were irritated! It’s hard to focus on what someone is saying if you’re distracted by their constant movement.

    Rhythm can indeed be a great way of dealing with speaking anxiety, but instead of pacing , use rhythm in your speaking by using repetition. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself , especially if you’re repeating key messages critical to your presentation. Repetition in speaking is not only okay, it’s necessary to help your audience retain your message. By using rhythm, you’ll get into a flow that will help prevent anxiety from setting in.

    4. Control your breathing

    One of the best ways you can deal with speaking anxiety is by controlling your breathing. Ignore people who tell you to take a big breath before speaking. Instead, focus on your exhales. By taking small sips of air on inhales and extending your exhales, you will start to calm down. This method of breathing will take practice, but trust me, I’ve seen it make an incredible difference for people who struggle with speaking anxiety.

    5. Remember: The audience wants you to succeed

    Finally, if you start to get anxious, reassure yourself that the audience is on your side. I’m reminded of a children’s theater performance of “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” I saw a few years ago. At one point, one of the flippers fell off one of the penguins, and you could feel the audience getting worried. Would one of the kids trip over the flipper? Luckily, nothing happened, and the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief. The point here is that the vast majority of people want your presentation to be a success. So if you “lose a flipper,” don’t panic—just pick it up, carry on, and imagine you can hear the audience’s sigh of relief. They are in your corner.

    Whether your speaking anxiety comes in the form of occasional jitters or constant dread, don’t let that stop you from communicating your ideas with power and purpose. By using these strategies, you’ll become less anxious and more focused on being your best in every speaking situation.

    Megan Monahan is a certified meditation instructor and has studied under Dr. Deepak Chopra. She is also the author of the book, Don’t Hate, Meditate.

    How to avoid panic in presentations coping with questions

    If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, then you have likely experienced constant feelings of fear and anxiety. Research has shown that using relaxation techniques can help reduce nervousness and improve your relaxation response. By enhancing your relaxation skills, you are can lower your flight-or-fight response that is often triggered during times of increased anxiety and panic attacks.

    Some common relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and meditation. These techniques are relatively easy to learn and can be practiced on a daily basis to assist with getting through panic attacks.

    What Is Visualization?

    Visualization is another powerful technique that can help you unwind and relieve stress. Visualization involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind. Similar to daydreaming, visualization is accomplished through the use of your imagination.

    There are several reasons why visualization can help you cope with panic disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. Consider how your thoughts wander when you feel panic or anxiety. When experiencing a panic attack, your mind may focus on the worry, the worst things that can happen and other cognitive distortions that only add to your sense of fearfulness.

    Visualization works to expand your ability to rest and relax by focusing your mind on more calming and serene images.

    Before beginning any of these visualization exercises, make sure your environment is set up for your comfort. To better relax, eliminate any distractions, such as phones, pets or television. Try to find a quiet place where you will most likely be undisturbed. Remove any heavy jewelry or restricting clothing, such as tight belts or scarves. Get ready to relax by either sitting or lying down in a position that feels most comfortable to you.

    To begin, it can be helpful to slow your breathing down with a deep-breathing technique. Close your eyes and try to let go of any tension you may be feeling throughout your body. To relax your body and mind even further, it may also be beneficial to try a progressive muscle relaxation exercise before you begin your visualization. Try to set aside about five to 15 minutes to visualize.

    The Serene Beach Scene

    The following is a beach scene visualization exercise that you can practice on your own. Beach scenes are one of the most popular visualizations due to their calming and tranquil impact. Feel free to change it to better suit your needs and imagination. Use this visualization to relax, unwind and briefly escape from your day-to-day tasks.

    Visualization Exercise: White Sandy Beach

    Imagine that you are resting on a white sandy beach and feel safe, calm, and relaxed as you think about the following:

    • Turquoise water and a clear, blue sky
    • The sound of soft waves as the tide gently rolls in
    • The weight of your body sinking into your beach chair
    • The warmth of the sand on your feet
    • A large umbrella keeping you slightly shaded, creating just the right temperature

    Relax your face and let go of any tension in your forehead, between your eyebrows, your neck, and your throat. Soften your eyes and rest. Allow your breath to slow down and match the rolling waves of the water. There is no effort to be here; spend time just taking it all in.

    Once this relaxation feels complete, imagine that you get up and slowly walk away from the beach. Remember that this beautiful place is here for you whenever you need to come back. Take your time and slowly open your eyes.

    Use Your Own Creativity

    If the beach scene doesn’t really fit you, try coming up with your own visualization. Think of a place or situation that you find to be very relaxing, such as lying down in a large field of flowers and grass, or enjoying a beautiful view of a mountain or forest. When visualizing your calming scene, think about what you are experiencing through all of your senses. Notice what you hear, smell, taste and how your body feels. When you feel ready to leave your relaxation scene, take your time and gradually return your mind to the present.

    To get better at visualization, try practicing at least several times a day. Relaxation techniques tend to be more helpful if you first start practicing at a time when you are not experiencing high anxiety. Through regular practice, you will more easily be able to use visualization when you really need it, such as when you start feeling the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety.

    “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.” This is a famous quote from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Intuitively, we know that perfectionism is unrealistic and restrictive, a tyrant that steals success. In fact, there are many sayings and experts that stress the importance of making mistakes for creating and achieving great things.

    But still there are many people who fear making mistakes. According to Martin Antony, Ph.D, professor of psychology at Ryerson University and co-author of When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, “Generally, fears are influenced by both our biological and genetic makeup, as well as our experiences.”

    We model what we see, Antony said. He gave the example of parents expressing their fears over making mistakes, which a child, like a sponge, soaks up.

    The messages we receive from others, including friends, employers and the media, also play a role. “The constant pressure to improve performance can have the effect of triggering fears of underperforming and of making mistakes,” Antony said. He added that constant criticism has a similar impact.

    Having some fear of mistakes can be a good thing, Antony said — it can help to improve your performance. But excessive fear causes problems. For instance, you might start avoiding fear-provoking situations. “[People] may avoid social situations (meetings, dating, presentations), for fear of making some sort of blunder, and they may procrastinate for fear of not being able to complete a task perfectly,” Antony said.

    Or you might engage in “safety behaviors” to prevent making mistakes. Antony defined safety behaviors as “small behaviors to protect oneself from perceived dangers.” So you might spend hours pouring over your work to make sure it’s mistake-free.

    Overcoming the Fear of Making Mistakes

    “Overcoming any fear involves confronting the feared stimulus directly,” Antony said. For instance, he and other perfectionism experts recommend people practice making small mistakes with mild consequences – and stop engaging in safety behaviors.

    Changing perfectionistic thinking also is important since it’s our thoughts, our interpretations of what’s occurring around us, that perpetuate perfectionism. As Antony and co-author Richard Swinson, M.D., write in When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, we actually don’t fear making mistakes. We fear what we believe about making mistakes. That’s what’s upsetting or anxiety-producing for us.

    “Perhaps you assume that making mistakes will lead to some terrible consequence that can’t be corrected or undone (such as being fired or ridiculed by others). Or you may believe that making mistakes is a sign of weakness or incompetence,” they write.

    Perfectionists tend to take such distorted thoughts as gospel. In their book, Antony and Swinson explain how readers can alter their perfectionistic thinking with these four steps:

    • identify the perfectionistic thought;
    • list alternative thoughts;
    • think about the pros and cons of both your thoughts and the alternative thoughts; and
    • pick a more realistic or helpful way to view the situation.

    They give the example of a man who feels embarrassed and anxious after making a joke that others didn’t seem to find funny. Initially, he thinks that others see him as awkward and boring, and won’t like him if he’s not entertaining.

    His alternative thoughts are that people won’t judge him based on one measly uncomfortable situation; and they find him interesting, anyway. When evaluating these thoughts, he realizes that his friends know him well, and even though they make bad jokes, he still enjoys their company. Plus, people invite him to functions, so they must find him entertaining.

    In the end, he picks this more realistic and helpful perspective: “Perhaps I need to give myself permission to make mistakes when I am talking to other people. I don’t judge other people when they say something unusual or awkward. Perhaps they are not judging me when I make mistakes.”

    Instead of assuming your thoughts are facts, Antony also asks people to test their beliefs with small experiments. “For example, if someone is convinced that mispronouncing a word would be a disaster, we might encourage him or her to mispronounce a word and see what happens.”

    Examining the evidence for your perfectionistic assumptions is another way to alter distorted thoughts. For instance, let’s say you believe that getting less than an A on your research paper is terrible and unacceptable. According to Antony and Swinson, “you could try to recall what happened in the past when you received a lower grade on a paper or exam. Did you survive the experience? What happens when other people receive grades that are lower than an A? Do terrible things occur as a result?”

    While it might feel like your fear of mistakes is unshakeable, fortunately, there are many effective, practical strategies to overcome perfectionism. If your fear seems excessive and impairs your functioning, don’t hesitate to see a mental health professional.