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My paper is successfully accepted in a very prestigious and reputable conference, to be presented orally in one of the presentation sessions. This is my first time that I am going to give such a talk in a large academic conference. My previous experiences are my presentations for my class projects and my bachelor's and master's thesis presentations. In my previous talks, I had reviewed my presentation slides more than five or six times before the presentation and had a bottle of water beside my laptop, but still I was too nervous.

I am a little nervous about giving a presentation talk in front of a large number of students and professors. I am sure that in the day of the presentation, I will be in trouble and my hands will start shaking and my voice will be vibrating when I am going to talk, because of my stress.

How should I decrease my stress on the day of my paper presentation and better control my nervousness in my presentation? My research paper is perfectly done; I don't want my nervousness ruin my first academic presentation in a conference and the huge research my co-authors and I have done in the research paper.

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    @Phil Despite doing lots of things such as preparing so much before my presentation, at the beginning of my presentation I was still nervous, my hands were shaking and my voice was a little unclear... – Enthusiastic Engineer Jan 27 '15 at 20:53
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    I suppose I would only consider it to be "too nervous" if it has a significant impact on your ability to communicate the message of the talk. Nevertheless there's some great advice below that will help in any case. Also, if your thesis presentations influenced the outcome of your degrees, you might have experienced a combination of exam nerves AND presentation nerves! At conference, it's people just like you and your supervisors - much less to worry about. – Phil Jan 27 '15 at 21:04
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    Well in this case (and for what it's worth) we can all agree on this: You'll do just fine! There are plenty of answers with things to do and try. Important for you of course is now to figure out what works best for you. – Ghanima Jan 27 '15 at 21:38
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    And just keep in mind that these people are not judging you, they are interested in what you have to say. They're on your side. – Jon Story Jan 28 '15 at 0:42
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    Nerves take different people in different ways. I tend to speak too fast if I'm nervous. In that case one thing to practice is not rushing. When you practice (preferably in front of fellow researchers), think about when you should pause for a good deep breath. It helps your pacing and gives the audience time to digest. – Chris H Jan 28 '15 at 20:32

15 Answers 15

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I don't want my nervousness ruin my first academic presentation in a conference and the huge research my co-authors and I have done in the research paper.

You being nervous will not ruin your research. Everybody knows that PhD students (or professors!) are often nervous when speaking at big conferences. No sane person will look at you being nervous, and hence deduct that your research has to be somehow faulty. Of course, everybody wants to be perceived "cool" in research talks, and it is certainly easier to do a great conference presentation when one is not too nervous (a little bit of tension helps, though). However, you should never forget that very little actual damage is being done if the audience sees that you are a bit nervous.

How should I decrease my stress on the day of my paper presentation and better control my nervousness in my presentation?

The best remedy for being nervous are (1) knowing your material / presentation really well, and (2) having a lot of practice (not just for this specific presentation, but of presentations in general). You do not sound like you are very experienced giving talks, so some amount of nervousness is not troublesome at all. Prepare your talk early and do at least 2 to 3 test talks in your department, until you have convinced yourself that your talk is good.

You'll probably still be a bit nervous on the big day, but don't be too hard on yourself - a bit shaky hands are not going to be any problem.

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    Most people in the audience won't even notice typical nerves - a decent proportion of all conference speakers will display nervous habits. Those that have stood up there themselves may notice, very few will be anything other than sympathetic. – Chris H Jan 28 '15 at 20:28
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    +1 for rationally explaining why OP should be confident. For me, confidence was the most important part. All I would add: Know what you're saying is important and worth others' time and then just focus of how to present your super awesome idea effectively. It's a sort of pride, pride in your product. Once I learned to do this, my fear of public speaking turned into something a lot more like excitement. Admittedly, it's an egotistic view, but accept it for it's practicality. – Tyler Jan 29 '15 at 4:04
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Remember that the main key players at this conference, liked your idea and accepted your paper. So you are welcome there.

Here what I did and worked for me:

  1. First know your slides very well (material, flow, etc.)

  2. Second, one or two weeks before the conference give the same talk to the research group your supervisor is supervising.

  3. Third, give the same talk to your close friends.

  4. Fourth, the day before the talk give the talk to yourself. Also, make sure you sleep enough hours.

    Basically lots of repetition of the same talk.

  5. Fifth, go to the conference, set up your machine earlier if possible, bring your laptop charger, a backup USB, and also email the slides to yourself (for the worst case).

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    Re point 5: First, read what the conference says and do that. For example you may have to upload onto their system on a schedule. – Chris H Jan 28 '15 at 20:30
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Despite having given more talks than I can remember, I still get quite nervous, with the nervousness exponentially rising as I come to the last moments before the talk. I find that, past a certain point, intensive studying and recitation actually make things worse for me. Once I feel generally comfortable with the material, it's better to take my mind off of things, so that I don't focus on the bad.

So I crack jokes and make conversation.

There's always a little setup period, while you're making sure that your slides are showing right, etc. During that period, I chat with the audience, saying nothing much of consequence, but just getting myself warmed up. That way, when I'm ready to start the talk, I'm already feeling conversational and my nervousness has broken.

Edited to add: One more benefit of "warming up the audience" is that some people may start smiling at you. When I give a talk, I let myself notice the people who are smiling or nodding along. There's nothing that relaxes me faster than somebody in the audience who is smiling at what I'm saying.

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    Cracking a joke once lost me a chance at an academic position. It hasn't stopped me though. Who wants to live in London anyway? – Dave Clarke Jan 27 '15 at 16:01
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    I don't think this is good advice. I would not recommend to unexperienced, nervous grad students to 'crack jokes'. Chance are high that nobody will find them funny and it will make everything a notch more awkward. – Cape Code Jan 27 '15 at 18:28
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    I think this is a good answer because an "icebreaker" is a good way to get the audience listening and release some nerves. I am not good at telling jokes, so that would never work for me, but I generally try and loosen my nerves through a relevant quote, some comfortable mannerisms, or a comfortable smile as I introduce my topic. I also shake my hands (thinking getting water off) before a talk as this gets out initial nerves. An old english teacher taught me this and it's stuck with me. – Amstell Jan 27 '15 at 19:19
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    @felix Probably started with "How many professors does one need to (...)" – xLeitix Jan 27 '15 at 23:14
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    @felix: Unfortunately, it wasn't a joke. My laptop crashed while giving a presentation, I told a few jokes to keep the mood light while the laptop rebooted, it ruined my chances of getting a position. It all worked out well in the end. – Dave Clarke Jan 28 '15 at 9:10
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Well done for getting your paper accepted! I don't think I can add much advice about the talk itself that hasn't already been offered. A few other things I always do:

  • Visit the room beforehand so that I don't get lost and can visualize the presentation.
  • Read the instructions on A/V very carefully. If the presentation system is managed, go to the preview room and make sure that my slides look right.
  • Attend the entire session in which my talk is placed.
  • Introduce myself to the session chair when I arrive.

I once did a whole conference presentation with my left leg vibrating wildly - it hasn't happened before or since - and nobody seemed to notice!

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When I was still new to presenting, I used various theatrical warmup exercises to get ready for big events. The ones that worked best for me were:

  • Breathing exercises. Controlling my breath focused my attention away from my nervousness.
  • Clenching and unclenching my fist together with breathing control.

You can find other exercises if you do some google searches for "theatre warmup exercises" or for "public speaking nervousness".

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    Yes - in fact, when you think of the presentation as a short one-act "play", and consider yourself the actor rather than the researcher, you can distance yourself emotionally more from the situation and perform better. In fact, a little amateur theatre experience may help your presentation skills. – Floris Jan 28 '15 at 14:47
  • Yes, breathe. It may sound silly if you've not tried conscious breathing, but actually this is the most practical and valuable tip on this page. Practice some deep steady breaths, and do some before your talk, the moment you start, periodically during the talk, and whenever you start to feel nervous or shaky. The breathing physically alters the nervousness in your body. Also, giving yourself momentary breaks for a few breaths to gather your thoughts is very helpful. Learn to be comfortable with pauses. Your audience needs pauses too, to consider and digest your material. – Basil Bourque Jan 29 '15 at 8:56
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I recommend: practice, practice and practice again. Practice giving the whole talk so many times that you could do it off by heart. It's hard to be both bored and nervous :)

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    With the new requirement being to not show your boredom in the talk ;) – Ghanima Jan 27 '15 at 21:23
  • Practice can include alternate forms. Try casually discussing your presentation with one or a few people, just explaining what you intend to cover, as if asking for their feedback on the material. The goal is to let your presentation sink in deeper so it feels less like a performance. Another form: Go backwards through the presentation; give your final conclusion, then explain the three partway conclusions that led to it, then discuss the evidence that led to each of those, then discuss how you gathered that evidence, then cover the original question or motivation for that investigation. – Basil Bourque Jan 29 '15 at 9:08
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Practice! I used to be very nervous, not so much anymore.

I remember preparing for my first conference talk, and it was nerve-wracking. I rehearsed the poor talk to death. The practice really paid off! The first few minutes were overwhelming - you are trying to grasp the audience, microphone, screen, and everything at the same time. The words were just unconsciously flying out of my mouth during these first few minutes while I was grasping the situation. The talk was good.

Now, I am not so nervous, but I still memorize the opening. It helps me start smoothly until I get into steady pace.

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    +1 on memorizing the opening. This is exactly what I do to avoid getting nervous. After a good and smooth opening, one gains confidence and it is easier to continue smoothly. – cabad Jan 28 '15 at 2:27
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In my experience it is always the hardest just before the beginning (e.g. when the person before you is about to finish their talk, or when you are walking up, or are just about to introduce yourself), however, once I start talking I usually loosen up considerably and by the end of it, I realize that it is really no big deal. Therefore, I pay the most attention to the details of the introductory few sentences of the presentation. Once that is down, the rest flows naturally. So, my advice is:

  1. before the talk: be clear how to start your talk, practice it, so that the nervousness doesn't hinder you.

    at the talk: Take a deep breath, focus on your voice (in order not to squeal, stutter, shout, etc.), introduce yourself and your work in a few sentences.

  2. before the talk: summarize what you are going to talk about and in what order, and here I don't mean learn the whole 15min talk by heart, but a few (I find usually 3-5 enough) guidelines of at most a sentence long defining the most important parts of your work. The most important thing here is that you can develop a narration to connect those guidelines. Here are the slides also of great help.

    at the talk: focus on delivering the audience a relaxed version of the paper. You know what you are going to say (the guidelines), just connect them with a story.

This approach deals very good with my nervousness, to the point at which I no longer practice my talks. I make a mental concept of the most important points while preparing the slides and focus on the introduction. Essentially, I just needed a way to overcome the initial anxiousness and start talking, after all, it is my work which I enjoy and love to talk to others about, in that sense a large audience is not that different.

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Fun fact: you can trick your body out of a flight-or-flight response by sucking on a mint or hard candy or chewing on some gum. When you're nervous like you are when you're about to give a presentation, your sympathetic nervous system is kicking in--that is, you're basically having a fight-or-flight response. If your body thinks you're eating, it kills the response. It kind of figures, "If I'm eating, there's clearly no real danger; if I'm fleeing a saber-toothed tiger, I'm not going to be munching mammoth jerky while doing it." Chewing gum or sucking on hard candies or mints tricks your body into thinking you're eating, thus your body figures there is no danger and no need to pump you with adrenaline.

Fun little trick I use all the time. Doing so also supposedly increases your mental clarity/concentration...at least according to all my teachers in high school who used to give us hard candies before tests.

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    It is fascinating, and can also explain stress-eating. I'd be interested to read more about it. Do you happen to have a reference for this? – Orion Jan 28 '15 at 3:29
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I voted you up because I empathize with you and completely understand how you feel. I don't have an answer for you but I wanted to write this to let you know that your nerves can't possibly be worse than my nerves. I thought that simply saying this to you might help you. Also, there's at least one great stage actor who suffered from it.

Capua, Michelangelo. Yul Brynner. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2006. (Link)

I simply can't present to large groups of unknowns. I've never been to a psychologist, but I'm certain I'd be diagnosed with "Glossophobia". When you get to my level and you would prefer death to giving the presentation, you are in a world of hurt. Nausea, cold sweats, the shakes...all the norm for me. It has literally prevented my achieving optimum success in life. I have been living with it for about 35 years.

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As others have mentioned, practice will help. If you are really really nervous with public speaking, there may be a Toastmasters group nearby and they are there to help.
But, to give you a personal anecdote. My first big presentation was as an undergraduate at the APS March meeting. This was back in the dark ages of hand-written vugraphs and an actual, wooden, pointer. I barely heard the session chair introduce me, placed my title vugraph on the overhead projector, picked up the stick, and turned to point with it at my title as I introduced myself.
Well, the pointer went flying out of my sweaty hands, fortunately landing in the corner of the room instead of impaling someone in the front row. At that point, and I still remember this clearly, the thought went through my head that, well, the worst that could happen had just actually happened. Nobody laughed, the earth did not open up to swallow me, and I walked over to the corner, picked up the pointer, and calmly went through my talk. After giving many talks and lectures, I now think it is a lot of fun to be up and talking about stuff that really interests me. So, practice your talk, realize that everyone can and will get nervous at times, but also remember that it will be just fine in the end.

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Well, you are going to hold a talk before a large audience first time. So you are going to be nervous. Accept it.

If you feel like you are going to make your talk incoherent, you can tell the audience in advance "well, I am not yet used to giving talks, so if you feel that any links are missing, feel free to ask".

Note that if this is your first talk, you'll likely be bad at estimating how much time you need for what. Holding a talk in your living room will help to give a good estimate, but particularly if you allow the audience to interrupt, you should substructure your talk into more and less important subissues and put a timeline next to them.

If you see yourself falling behind, you skip less important stuff or details: the important thing is that the spine of the talk gets delivered. Obviously, you want to do that kind of prioritization in advance since you don't have all that much organizing capacity available at talk time. Particularly if you are going to be nervous.

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    Holding a talk in your living room will help to give a good estimate — But be careful with calibration. It took me a few years to realize that for a good 20-minute conference talk, I should practice by myself in my hotel room until I can give the talk in 25 minutes. (If I practice until the talk lasts 20 minutes in my room, I'll be done after 15-17 minutes in front of an audience.) The adrenaline of actually speaking in front of people smooths out the false starts, tangents, and erms and uhs. – JeffE Mar 1 '15 at 16:23
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Agree completely with David Rose - would add a few thngs, though.

I'm myself extremely nervous when speaking in public, even a presentation to my close collegues at work gives me sleepless nights.

But - once the talk starts and You are allowed to concentrate on the speech the nervousness generally subsides. Just remember to talk slowly as one tends to speak fast when nervous (to get over with it, I presume) and that makes it hard to follow as a listener, which makes some people increase non-verbal (or even distracting verbal) signs of disattention which in the speaker leads to more nervousness - a vicious circle.

Slow - Loud - Clear

The presentation should not distract from the speech but underline it - no sentences in the slides, but keywors You use in the speech. One keyword every one or every two sentences. And try not to let it sound like print, better to construct the sentences around the keywords naturally, maybe even changing the sentences a bit every time You rehearse - the flexibility You gain will help You not to get stuck when You don't remeber the exact sentence You tried to learn by heart. Just a look at the slide and You'll remember what to say.

Don't forget to look at the audience, not only to Your manuscript (which in my case now only contains the keywords) and finally: rehearse a lot, alone and in public (family, friends, collegues, research group).

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There's a ton of material online for how to prepare a presentation.

Practice your presentation just as you'll give it. Arrange your space as much like the stage as you can. I had a large TV in the room where I practiced, I'd put the presso on that so it was behind me, so I could get used to working iwth it back there adn a 'presenters view' in front of me.

Don't read your presentation - you want to be like a stage actor delivering lines they know, not like the school principle reading a notice. But you should know exactly what you're going to say - not memorized, but 'now I'll say my uncertainty calculations were done by the XYZ method' . Going over your slides 5-6 times is not enough if you're not a practiced speaker. Actually say it, out loud, over and over until you find yourself bored to death and find yourself daydreaming while giving it to the walls over and over.

Before a major talk I find myself giving the talk over and over when driving, cleaning house, etc. Near the time I deliver it, I'm hitting my timing marks within a few seconds.

Then invite a couple friends (fellow grad students are ideal) to listen.

I regularly give talks before large audiences at computer conferences, and the only solution to being scared is to be so thoroughly prepared that there's nothing to be scared of.

I have a couple little rituals. One is that I contact the organizer and find out if they'll introduce me or whatever, cause I hate that little awkwardness at the start of gthe talk.

The other is that I mentally say 'I love you, you're wonderful, you'll give a great talk' to myself right before I speak. It's incredibly doofy feeling, but does work.

0

As a musician, I've had a lot of experience with nerves. One thing I didn't see mentioned here is that getting nervous has an up-side. When your body gives you more adrenaline, it makes you a bit of a Superman/Wonder Woman. Without that spurt of adrenaline, the music or the talk is not as compelling.

Slowing your breathing (like in yoga) is helpful. But you need to practice a little bit every day. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your tummy. When you take your breath in, feel your whole torso fill up like a balloon. Make sure your shoulders remain relaxed and low as you breathe in. Count the seconds as you are breathing out, and try to make each successive exhalation last longer than the one before.

If you find that your fingertips or your face start to tingle, that means you have hyperventilated, and you should inhale from and exhale into a small paper bag a few times. This will keep you doing the slow deep breathing that will relax you, but you won't be taking in too much oxygen.

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