How to deal with pitch anxiety

Without picturing your audience naked

More likely than not you suffer from Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking. It’s estimated that 75% of people experience physical distress, nausea, or panic when thinking about, or actually presenting to groups. Even the greats get sweaty palms and mind blanks. Adele gets so nervous about going on stage, she says, “I get fidgety, I moan, I complain, I try to escape, I try to get out.” And Ghandi, before becoming a world-renowned spiritual leader who speaks to arenas packed with people, once stood up to address a local vegetarian society and was at a loss for words. He remembered, “My vision became blurred and I trembled.”

Sound familiar?

The good news is you’re not alone. And though there’s no magic answer for getting rid of pitch anxiety, there are ways to lessen and control it that don’t include picturing your audience naked.

…That’s not polite to do to clients anyway.

Practice alone and to an audience

The goal isn’t to run through your pitch until you have every word, gesture, and joke memorized. That will only throw you off when something inevitably goes off script. Practice your presentation several times by yourself and in front of a discerning audience, like your partner or design colleagues outside of work. Get familiar with the ins and outs of your work, and find new and better ways to talk about it each time. Then you’ll have several approaches in your back pocket when you’re standing in front of the room for real. Invite your practice audience to ask questions and poke holes. Establish answers during a dry run in front of friends so you’re not filling a pause with an ummm while you piece your response together in front of your client.

Anticipate snafus and create solutions

For how hard you’ve worked on the presentation, you don’t want to let a little fumble take you down. Put yourself in control of potential missteps by having a solution on standby:

  • You lose your words: If you mess up, just keep going. No one else will notice. You’re the one in charge of the presentation, so if you deviate from the “script,” go with it. You can also use the pause to take a sip of water. Your audience will think you’re just a little parched, and you’ll buy yourself some time to get back on track.
  • The presentation equipment malfunctions: Always have paper copies ready. You don’t have to print out every inch of every screen, but make sure your deck tells the full story of your work, and your presentation narrative will do the rest.
  • You run out of time: If you realize you’ve got 5 minutes for what could take 15, stick to the main points. Don’t go into detail on the user testing you conducted to land on the exact shade of blue, just mention you arrived at the color through testing and move on to the next important information. Whatever you do, don’t start speed talking. You’ll sound like a frantic auctioneer and confuse everybody.

Visualize the performance

Pitching is somewhat of a performance. While you’re hopefully not doing a dance and waving a baton to get your client’s attention and approval, you’ll follow somewhat of a routine when you actually deliver the pitch. After some practice rounds alone and with an audience, close your eyes and imagine how the pitch will go. See yourself deliver key points flawlessly, watch your audience nod with pleasure at your visuals, and enjoy as your work is understood and appreciated by others. Visualizing a successful pitch is a great thing to do in the moments before you actually stand up to present, too. It’ll help you feel focused and in control.

Establish a warm-up ritual

Many pro athletes swear by superstitious rituals to pump themselves for a game. Michael Jordan always wore his lucky shorts from UNC under his Bulls uniform. The shorts probably didn’t directly influence his prowess on the court, but they put him in a winning mindset. Do the same for yourself by finding a routine or ritual that works for you. Step into the bathroom to repeat a positive mantra to yourself in the mirror. Or tape a photo of a favorite person or place in your notes so you have something happy to glance at if you feel your nerves acting up.

Involve your audience

Don’t walk into the room with a me vs. them mentality. You’ll feel much more at ease if you connect with your audience and make them a part of the presentation. Pose group questions that invite everyone to raise their hands to show participation. Training Magazine says the average adult’s mind wanders after about 20 minutes, so zero in on individuals and ask him or her to answer an easy question. Spread audience interactions throughout your pitch, too.

Knowing that 3 out of 4 of people hate public speaking, the next time you’re sitting in the audience, pass some good karma to the presenter:

  • Give him/her your full attention — computer shut, phone out of sight
  • Listen actively and respond with nods, smiles, and responsive body language
  • Participate in moments of audience interaction
  • Ask questions that help clarify the work when necessary

You may never skip into the pitch room, gleefully firing up your PowerPoint, and that’s ok. Just know you’re not alone in your anxiety, prepare as best you can, and visualize the applause for when it’s all over.


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