Pre-presentation Rituals

September 10, 2009


I gave a presentation this morning and as I passed the moments before it started, pacing nervously back and forth, I stopped and thought about pre-presentation rituals. Public speaking is a nerve wracking experience. It makes everyone sweat a little. To deal with that nervous energy I’ve developed a set of pre-presentation rituals.

T -3 hours – Pre-Flight check. Boot up my computer and load the presentation. Make sure everything still runs from the night before and do a quick run through my slides.

T -2.5 hours – Cleaning. Clean up my desk, vacuum the floor, and take away any unwanted distractions. I don’t want to trip or knock something over while I’m speaking.

T -2 hours – Relaxation. With my presentation queued up and ready I take a little while to relax, play with my daughter, or watch a few clips on YouTube. I like to think about movie characters that perform well under pressure.

T -90 minutes – Setup. Check to make sure all the little things I need are ready:

  • My computer
  • My keyboard
  • My phone
  • A box of tissues
  • A glass of water
  • Something to do with my hands (normally a hacky sack)

I move my desk chair out of the way and get ready to pace. I always present standing up.

T -1 hour – Log in. Log into my desktop sharing software (I give almost every presentation remotely) and start sharing. I normally have a welcome slide or animation for people who come early. I also set up my second computer as an audience member.

T -45 minutes – Nervous pacing.

T -30 minutes – Worrying. I always have that moment of panic where I let all the possible pitfalls run through my head. My Internet connection could die. I could forget what I was going to say. My computer could spontaneously combust. I go over my plan for each problem and then put them away in my mind. It helps me relax.

T -20 minutes – Focused relaxation. Take a moment to sit or kneel and focus. I slow down my breathing and try to thinking about something calming.

T -15 minutes – Bouncing. I’m not joking. At this point I’ll have enough nervous energy that I literally bounce while I’m pacing back and forth.

T -12 minutes – Doubt. Wonder how I ever talked myself into presenting and promise I’ll never do it again.

T -11 minutes – Elation. Realize how great my presentation will be and think about scheduling my next one.

T -10 minutes – Last minute checks. Go over everything once more. Repeat my opening remarks in my head and make sure everything is where I need it.

T -5 minutes – Get connected. Put on my telephone headset and dial into the conference call number. I take a few more deep breaths.

T -3 minutes – Small talk. Chat with the people who came early. This is the most difficult part for me. I’m so nervous, but I try to sound calm and collected.

T -0 minutes – Welcome to

And then I present. The ritual is almost the same for virtual presentations or real ones and I follow it religiously. It helps me feel in control of the situation and makes me a little less nervous. That makes me a better presenter.

I hope that sharing my rituals makes it a little easier for you. What are your pre-presentation rituals? How do you prepare?

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