Effective Presentations
Diane DiResta, Presentation Coach

Published on July 2, 2019

What are some tricks to combat nerves right before giving a presentation?

There are 2 ways to combat nervousness before speaking: mindset and skill set.


Begin by programming your mind for positivity and success. Create a positive affirmation, such as, I am confident. I’ve got this. I’m the expert. Say it out loud.

Visualize a successful outcome. Create the story in your mind. Imagine yourself as you stand and walk to the center of the room. See the audience smiling and nodding. Hear the confidence in your voice. Hear the applause and feel the success.

Find a friend to be your support system and cheer you on.

Skill set

Prepare and Practice. Do several rehearsals. Record and time yourself.

Do deep breathing. Inhale and exhale to the count of four. Place your hand on the abdomen and breathe from the belly.

Memorize your opening line and pause. Most anxiety happens at the beginning of the presentation. Know exactly what to say.

Look at one person and make a connection. Speaking to one person at a time is less threatening than scanning a large group.

Finally, realize that nervousness is self-centeredness. Get over yourself. It’s not about you. It’s about them -- the audience.

What is the best way to respond to difficult questions (or questioners) during a Q&A?

Step one is to anticipate the difficult questions and prepare your answer. Repeat or clarify the question. Once you understand the question, answer simply. Do not repeat negative language, instead, reframe the question to sound neutral and answer in a way that shows you are addressing their concerns. Offer to get back to them if it’s a question you can’t answer. When dealing with a difficult questioner, remain non defensive; don’t get into a debate. Use your eye contact to end your answer on somebody other than the questioner, as this will prevent one person from dominating.

What's one of the biggest mistakes people make when presenting to a board? What can they do to remedy it?

The biggest mistake is not speaking their language and not getting to the point. The board doesn’t appreciate casual communication. Keep your guard up and avoid getting too technical or detailed. Be sure to communicate an ROI of your idea. It’s also important to get buy-in from individuals prior to the board meeting. It’s helpful to practice with someone who can provide objective feedback.

Aside from rehearsing and being prepared for the environment in which you're speaking, what are 3 things you can do instantly improve presentation skills?

  • Use gestures that are above the waist. Your power space is from your waist to your face. This will make you look more confident and powerful.
  • Make an eye connection. Look at one person for a sentence or two. Then find another person in a different section of the audience. When ticking off bulletin points, deliver one bullet point per person.
  • Master the pause. Come to a complete stop at the end of a sentence. Punctuate the message with 2-3 beats of silence after making a point so that the message lands and the audience knows it’s significant.

What adjustments should you make when giving a presentation or leading a group meeting virtually vs. in person?

Leading a meeting virtually is challenging. Set expectations of how you expect people to participate. If you are using Zoom or Skype, look directly in the lens, not at the screen. It feels awkward, but it will look like direct eye contact to the person on the other side of the screen. Send an agenda in advance and allow for delay time by pausing for 4 seconds after asking a question. When hosting a webinar, build in interaction to maintain attention by using the chat function or polls. Periodically mute the line and ask a question.

Diane DiResta is changing the world one presentation at a time. As an executive presentation coach, professional speaker & author of Knockout Presentations, Diane coaches executives to be influential public speakers and helps companies train their teams in effective communication & leadership skills.

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