• Advice

How to not seem nervous when you’re presenting to clients and freaking out inside

As a freelancer, having good presentation skills can be an invaluable business tool. Whether you’re trying to convince somebody new to work with you, or are showing your final product to a client, the way you handle the situation can affect how they view both your work and your business. But what if you’re an introvert who feels panicky when all of the eyes in the room are on you?

While leading a presentation may feel like torture to a shy person, you don’t have to magically become an extrovert to do a good job. Even public speakers will tell you that they found it intimidating at first, but that they got better the more they did it.

The best way to improve your presenting skills is to practice as much as possible. However, if you find yourself going into freakout mode, there are also some proven techniques for making yourself look -- and feel -- less nervous.

The next time you need to lead a presentation or pitch to a potential client, try the following tricks to combat your nerves.

Use the right body language

Even if you’re totally nervous and sweaty, confident body language can downplay some of those effects. Here are three things that you can do to look more in control:

  • Stand or sit up straight
  • Avoid touching your face or your hair
  • Don’t shrink into yourself like you want to be smaller

If you’re standing and don’t know what to do with your hands, let your arms hang loosely to your sides. It feels awkward, but it’s a very neutral look that public speakers often use.

Studies indicate that expansive, powerful poses can also change the way you feel subconsciously. (There is an interesting TED Talk about this.) Before your meeting, try using a strong, confident pose that takes up a lot of physical space. It’s free and you don’t have to do it in public, but it could potentially help you feel much better afterwards.

Think of questions beforehand

Set aside some time to think about the kinds of questions that might come up after your presentation, and how you will respond to them. Focus on the ones that might be negative, such as “Why doesn’t your product include [XYZ]?”.

If you’re going to be talking about a specific topic at length, make sure you’ve researched it thoroughly, even beyond the limits of what you really need to know. The more expertise you can bring to the table, the more confident you’ll feel during the discussion.

Talk slowly and breathe deeply

If you’re totally freaking out, it’s a good idea to talk a little more slowly than you would in normal conversation. (Not robot slow, just taking it easy slow). Nervous people talk too quickly, and slowing down your voice will make you easier to hear in a group setting.

While you’re at it, make sure you breathe slowly and deeply. Deep breathing creates a relaxing response in your body, and it will also help prevent your voice from shaking.

Don’t think about yourself – think about the goal

Thinking about how you feel and how your "performance" is going can make you feel even more panicky, so try to focus on the task at hand. Your audience is there to get some information, so your job is to make sure that everything is communicated clearly and effectively. Don’t be afraid to be conversational or make a joke, either.

Bring a prop or visual aid

When you’re presenting, try to bring some visual aids for your audience to look at, such as a Powerpoint presentation or handout. This will make your presentation less boring, but it will also take some of the attention off of you directly. Make sure you also bring notes and a bottle of water, because talking for long periods of time can make you thirsty.

Don’t get hung up on screw-ups

If you find yourself tripping over your words or are not sure what to say, try not to panic. Remember, every conversation is full of tiny mishaps, errors, and repeats -- it’s how humans talk! If you drop your papers on the floor or run into technical difficulties, make a joke or laugh it off. Your client will be on your side, and it’s a great opportunity to make yourself seem personable.

Freelancers, what are your tips for giving a presentation?