The presentation anxiety phenomenon – where content matters

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Presentation anxiety is probably the most written about issue when it comes to public speaking

Storytelling, structure and style pale into insignificance compared to requests we receive to help professionals calm their presention anxiety and nerves.

Despite the ubiquity of presentation anxiety, at Mindful Presenter we have noticed an interesting phenomenon. When we ask professionals to stand and speak about something personal that they truly care about, most of them shine.

When the same people turn to speak on a business topic, many suddenly lose their energy, personality and passion. Of course, talking about seeing your daughter being born is an entirely different league to sharing your health and safety policies at work.

There is often a very clear distinction we see in energy and impact between presenting a personal story and a business idea

Despite that, we still rarely see the high level of presentation anxiety many people say they experience when giving a business presentation.

On a presentation anxiety scale of 1 to 10 ( with 10 representing the highest) many professionals say they feel at the top end of that scale.

What’s interesting is, despite there insistence and belief that their audience can see their anxiety, it’s very rarely the case.

I have worked with many people who tell me that they feel extreme anxiety, yet their audience can’t see it.

How is it possible that someone can feel so uncomfortable yet their audience can’t see it?

It is of course the power of the mind

Whether you are about to give an important presentation, attend an interview or ask someone out on a date, we have all experienced the potent influence of the mind.

Most people acknowledge the heaven or hell our very own minds can create for us in any situation.

When it comes to presenting and public speaking are there other forces at play?

There are a great number of reasons many of us are troubled with varying levels of presentation anxiety.

I have written many articles designed to help people to manage, calm and control those troublesome feelings.

Here are just a few of them:

7 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

Annoying Features of the Mind; not just for presenters but all of us

5 Mindfulness techniques to help you to present with confidence, clarity and impact

The Presentation Anxiety Solution – 8 Pre-mortem steps

For now, I’d like to focus on the one critical area that most people don’t realise can be a hidden source of presentation anxiety.

Your content

None of us were born with the ability to speak instantly, let alone speak confidently.

Those who can present with confidence, clarity and impact have had to learn how to do so. Even the most seasoned speaker will tell you that’s it is not easy.

Many still feel some level of  presentation anxiety each time they speak

How many of us were taught to speak or present publicly at school, college or university?

If you want to learn how to swim, drive a car or speak another language, you would find someone to guide and help you.

It’s exactly the same with presenting and public speaking. Find someone who has studied it, done it successfully, is passionate about it and is able to teach it.

Many professionals feel such a high level of presentation anxiety because they don’t have:

– A clear and powerful message

– Something of tangible value and relevance to say

– Something we couldn’t just share in an email, document or phone call

– Information which will make their audiences lives, better, easier, happier or positively different

If you don’t have all four of these, you should feel nervous

As you set out to ensure you can deliver these crucial elements please don’t:

– Spend time crafting and preparing to present something you could easily tell your audience in an email

– Present unless you have someing new, important or compelling to share.

– Don’t present someone else’s content

I realise that the last suggestion seems quite impossible for many people. If you’re a professional who simply doesn’t have a choice and find yourself having to present in such a tedious culture try this:

Push back

In other words, try to resist the pressure to simply continue the cycle and challenge the status quo instead.


Send an email in advance to those who will be attending the meeting explaining that you have nothing new, relevant or compelling to share which respects and values their time. Offer what you intend to say in an email  instead.

Make it clear

Tell them you will be open to questions and a discussion on any point if they still want you to attend the meeting. Make it clear though that you won’t be presenting.

If you have to present then don’t succumb to the pressure or status quo of doing what everyone else does.  Focus exclusively on what you have to share that is of value, relevance and meaning to those who will be listening to you.

For everything you plan to say or show ask yourself this question first, so what?


Imagine one of your colleagues interrupts you at any point and asks, ‘so what, why should I care about that’. If you can’t answer their question mindfully, it means that what you are planning to share is probably pointless.

Content is the source of extensive frustration, damage and anxiety in many organisations today.

One way you can greatly reduce your anxiety is by having the mindfulness and courage to make sure that what you have to say is content rich.

If it isn’t, then be honest and simply send them an email.

Content aside, we all have an internal confidence thermostat; learn more here:

If you struggle with presentation anxiety and need some help:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

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