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Sidebar: Handling nervousness

Nervousness is a normal part of the teaching process.  Here are some hints for calming those nerves.

Practice – Practice helps you overcome nerves by making you feel more confident. You should practice your presentation several times beforehand, enlisting a friend to watch your “dress rehearsal.”  You should not memorize your presentation, but be ready to “go with the flow” in case a change in plans is necessary.

Imagine – As you practice, imagine how your audience might react to your presentation. Imagine questions or comments they might make and respond to those imagined questions or comments.

Start out strong – Most teachers are nervous at the beginning of their presentation and relax as they speak.  Although memorizing your entire presentation isn’t a good idea, it is a good idea to memorize the introduction.  In that way, you will be able to present your introduction and calm yourself as you do.    

Assume a confident attitude – Students prefer an instructor who is calm, relaxed, and appears to have a command of both their topic and the ability to teach it. Students appreciate confidence, but be careful not to appear overly confident.

Don’t try to be something you are not - Students want you to be honest and not fake.

Concentrate on your main points – Although you have practiced your presentation, something can always go awry.  Have a list of the main points you want to make.  No matter what, getting the main points across is imperative. 

Breathe and Hum – Studies show a good way to calm yourself is by taking deep, even breaths.  Before your presentation begins, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as if you are blowing out a candle (of course doing this in private will help calm your nerves even more.)  This maneuver will provide you with plenty of oxygen, set up a relaxation reflex, and help prevent you from hyperventilating.  If your voice is prone to quiver, try humming before you present.  It calms the voice.

Come to class a few minutes early – This will allow you to set up any audiovisuals and allow you time in case you need to make any type of adjustment.  More importantly, it will give you time to chat with a few students.  Getting to know your audience helps to calm nerves. 

Have a back up plan – No matter how good a teacher you are, something will always happen.  Have your presentation ready, but have in your mind a back up plan.  For example, what would you do if your PowerPoint presentation failed? What would you do if your guest speaker cancelled at the last minute? Thinking about these things before they happen can make you more confident when they happen.
 
 
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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