Being nervous for a talk is no problem

27 Oct

I am teaching a class where students have to do short presentations for me and their peers. I very much enjoy the class, but I know that some students really don’t like giving talks. After a presentation, we often have a conversation that starts like this: Me: “Well done, I enjoyed your talk.” Student: “Thanks, but I was so nervous!”

I then often tell the student that the only way to reduce nervousness is to give talks as often as you can. But I also want to tell them something else, which is maybe more important, namely that being nervous should not keep you from giving a good or even great presentation. If you want to improve your talks, you can focus on a better story, or simpler slides, but don’t try to not be nervous. It’s not necessary and it won’t work anyways.

If your talk is well prepared and if you manage to get your message across, then nobody in the audience cares about whether you are nervous or not. Even if it is obvious that you’re nervous, people understand and will not judge you.

On the other hand, if you are not well prepared, if you take more time than allotted, if your slides are full of long sentences and the axes of your plots are unlabeled, then the audience will be annoyed.

Emma Watson is nervous too

I recently watched Emma Watson’s speech for the UN about feminism. It became a huge hit on the internet. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of it. But did you notice how nervous she was?

However, it didn’t matter that she was nervous, because she had an important message, a good story, she was well prepared, she paused at the right places and she stood tall. In the end, her being nervous was no problem at all. She got her message across.

2 Responses to “Being nervous for a talk is no problem”

  1. Andrew Joseph Pegoda March 21, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    Lots of excellent postings here. I love the idea of forbidding PowerPoint! 🙂


  1. 15 papers on contemporary evolution in human viruses | Being A Better Scientist - June 1, 2015

    […] this seminar previously here (about the seminar format) and here (no powerpoint allowed), and here (about being nervous for a […]

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