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Presentation Anxiety: 4 Tips to Conquer It Forever

Are you anxious about your upcoming college presentation? We have some tips to help you conquer your presentation anxiety.

Person presenting in college lecture room
College Lecture | Credit: Unsplash/Dom Fou

Your professor says your name and gestures for you to stand before the class. Words can’t describe the crushing anxiety you’re feeling as you put down your notecards and make your way up to the front of the room. Eyes are everywhere. Take a breath, and don’t worry, you’re not the only person struggling with presentation anxiety, and we have 4 simple but often-forgotten tips on how to overcome it.

Anxiety is a common feeling associated with public speaking, especially for Gen Z. The American Psychological Association conducted a study in 2023 that shows young adults ages 18 to 34 are reporting higher levels of stress than their older counterparts. This growing anxiety is heavily impacting confidence in multiple areas of life, including the classroom. Presentation anxiety is super common, so you’re not at all alone.

Since this is such a common issue, thankfully, there are a ton of tips on how to improve.

1. Know Your Topic

Overhead view of a person at a desk on their phone and laptop while writing
The extra research goes a long way | Credit: Unsplash/Firmbee.com

You should be prepping anyway for your project, but we want to emphasize how helpful it can be when you’re starting to freak out in front of your audience. Although cue cards can be a helpful tool, we suggest that you just go cardless if possible. Some of the more strict professors tend to take away points anyway for not keeping eye contact with your audience, so presenting without glancing down at a piece of paper or document on your laptop will make you look more engaged.

Don’t worry about trying to memorize words or phrases for your project, that’ll only worsen your presentation anxiety. Instead, focus more on the knowledge you’ve acquired. This is especially helpful for students who aren’t that great at memorizing information line by line. Instead, try to have some fun learning the material so that it sticks in your head later on. Treat it like you’re having a conversation with a friend about something new you just discovered.

Bonus: Make sure you show less than what you’ve learned during the main presentation. That way, if you’re asked questions about the material, you can pull out some additional information and look even more knowledgeable about the topic.

2. Do a Test Run

two people talking to each other as they start at a computer screen
A fresh perspective is always valuable | Credit: Unsplash/Desola Lanre-Ologun

You’ve probably heard this multiple times from professors and even teachers from high school, but it really does help to ask a peer to review your work. A fresh set of eyes can catch mistakes you might have glossed over during your own revisions. They can also reassure you if you’re overthinking your project (which, if you’re reading this, you most likely are).

We spoke to a University of Michigan student who emphasized the importance of repetition when it comes to college presentations. “I find that my best performances have actually been when I’ve done full practice run-throughs or when I’ve had to do a presentation multiple times.”

Aside from checking any grammatical or factual errors in your work, this is also a good chance for you to chip away at some of that presentation anxiety. Use this opportunity to rationalize how your real presentation will go. In reality, you will most likely be speaking in front of more people, but any practice is still great practice.

Bonus: If you’re afraid of stuttering or slipping up over words, try some classic tongue twisters before your run-throughs. It’s a tried and true method that is still used today, especially by voice actors. They might seem goofy, and they are, but they’ll help you improve your speech, and ease your tension with some silly phrases. 

3. Relax (really!)

open book next to a mug of coffee or tea with a beautifully lit body of water in the background
Make sure not to overwork yourself | Credit: Unsplash/Photo Aaron Burden

This is probably the most difficult task to accomplish. It’s easier to tell someone to relax than it is to do it. Despite that, we’re going to try, starting with a warning: don’t overdo the caffeine. We know it’s the college student rite of passage to pull an all-nighter running on some type of caffeine, but there is some medical evidence that suggests it’ll worsen your anxiety, especially if you’re diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. You’ll only stress yourself out more if you chug some espresso or Red Bull right before your presentation.

Instead, try some decaf tea before you go into your class (a small snack works as well). Something light so that you’re not running on empty but not so much that you feel sick to your stomach when the presentation anxiety hits. Some granola or even a light sandwich is good. 

Don’t scroll on your socials too much before heading in, either. Instead, listen to some music and maybe skim over your material one final time for reassurance. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You want to be as relaxed as possible before it’s your turn to present.

Bonus: If you’re able to choose when you present, go first! It might be scary to be the first person up, but you’ll have less time to freak out about your project; then, you can relax for the rest of the class.

4. Reflect

Chances are if you’re presenting, the rest of the class is having to as well. If you still feel nervous or embarrassed after talking about your topic, then just take a moment and think. How closely were you really paying attention to your classmates while they presented? Be honest. There’s a good chance that you were zoning out, or maybe even reading about something completely unrelated on your laptop or tablet. 

Even if you did pay attention, how closely were you even looking? We think it’s safe to say that you weren’t scrutinizing every single move of your classmate. With all the presentations that go on each semester, there’s a slim chance that what you talked about will even stick in the brains of your classmates.

A student we spoke to from Wayne State University stated, “I write exactly everything I want to say word for word and get really worried about if people will think that I sound stupid or notice dumb mistakes, especially ones that I didn’t even catch myself. What helps me calm down a bit, though, is that most people don’t give a frick.”

So, even if you stumbled over a word or absolutely blanked out on your topic, just remember that no one is criticizing you more than, well, you. Even your professor who is grading you isn’t going to be thinking forever about what mistakes you might have made. So stay calm and relax. You studied your topic and did your best in front of the class. Now, just relax and move on to the next project (after a nice evening of mindless YouTube to chill out).

Written By

Hi! I'm Isabella. I'm a University of Michigan alumni that is obsessed with the internet and self-care.

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