Even those with nerves of steel can feel as though they are facing a deep abyss into which they might fall when having to give a presentation.
Nerves can be crippling, debilitating and can undermine the best prepared presentation.
So what can be done about it?
First piece of advice: Realise and accept that nerves are part of the deal. There may be a few people out there who aren't affected by pre-performance jitters, but they are rare and not like the rest of us who have butterflies or feel as though we want to throw up or even feel we might pass out.
The number of people is incalculable who we've seen over the years who think they are unique in their terror and that there's something wrong with them, when their colleagues seem so cool and under control when they present.
Your terror isn't you being a wuss; nerves are commonplace and if you look at the presenting arena in the first place, why wouldn't you be scared: standing in front of an audience (even a few people sitting around a table is an audience), all eyes on you, waiting…
And where do most people's minds go? "They're out to get me." "They're waiting for me to fail." "Actually, they're expecting me to fail." "I'm going to make a fool of myself." And so on and so on.
Second piece of advice: Believe that your audience is on your side. Unless you have an arch enemy in the audience, people want you to succeed. They want to be engaged, drawn in; informed or entertained, or both. Since there are so many poor presenters out there, they want your presentation to stand out from the crowd and keep them awake.
Third piece of advice: Avoid hiding behind PowerPoint. PowerPoint has its place, and its place is to support you, not replace you. The moment you give your slides top billing is the moment you hand control of your presentation to technology. This is one of the most common presentation mistakes we see: in order to manage nerves, people pack their slides with tons of information and hope that will do the trick so they don't have to take centre stage themselves. Centre stage is a really good place to be if you want to be credible in front of your audience.
Fourth piece of advice: Take care of yourself. Always keep a glass of water to hand and make use of it. Mouths go dry when nerves are present, so keep sipping. Reaching for the glass will also force you to move so you aren't rooted to the spot. Movement will also help when your nerves cause you to seize up which in turn causes rigid posture, which, in turn, will make it hard to breath.
Fifth piece of advice: Breathe. Taking deep breaths to fill the lungs is a really good idea. Shallow breathing tends to exaggerate and exacerbate nerves and contributes to your feelings of dread. A few deep breaths before you face the crowd really will help. As will jumping up and down, swinging your arms, doing torso twists, side bends, knee lifts; anything to get you into your body and out of your head even for just a moment or two will make a huge difference to how you feel.
Sixth piece of advice: Prepare. And then prepare some more. One of the best ways to help with nerves is to know that you are standing on a solid platform of preparation. A contributing factor to those queasy jitters is not having done your homework. That awful feeling that you're going to be found out because you don't fully know what you're talking about.
Preparation includes getting your material in order and also practising, in front of a mirror, in front of a friend, in front of a sympathetic colleague. If you try to wing it and you're not too adept at winging it, get ready to plummet to earth with a bang and a whimper.
Seventh and final piece of advice: Have fun! Even with serious subjects, it can be hugely rewarding and satisfying to know you pulled it off, gave a terrific presentation, managed your nerves and enjoyed yourself. When nerves rule the day, all you want to do is get it over with; when you rule your nerves, you are freed up to have a great time.