Fear of presenting


Well, it looks like I may have an opportunity to present at a conference in a months time. I am so dreadfully fearful of this that I can't even tell you how many sleepless nights I've had in recent days just thinking about it. It will be my first conference, and I just can't seem to kick this terror. Does anyone else feel like this at the thought of presenting? How in the world do you fight off these feelings? I know this is a common feeling amongst PhD students, but I'm actually becoming overwhelmed with fear. Last night, I was meant to be relaxing, and all I could think about was this bloody conference. Arghhh!


I have this vision that I'll go completely blank and won't be able to salvage it. How do you all present? Do you use Powerpoint? Read from a script? Improvise? I'd love to hear the different ways that people approach this.

Avatar for XJR

The only way to get over fear like this is to go out and do the presentation!

For practical advice I always do a full runthrough of the presentation a week or so before in front of friends and ask for constructive feedback. Any major problems will be spotted here making you more confident for the presentation itself.

When doing the actual presentation I use Powerpoint slides to prompt what to say and don't use any notes at all. However, I also have a full script with me which I can read word-for-word if I forget what to say. Thankfully I have never had to use this but it helps to know I can fall back on this if needed.


Hi Spacey- I was absolutely terrified doing my first conference presentation, so you're right that it's a common feeling among PhD students! Obviously I can only talk from my own experience, but I use powerpoint (2-3 mins of talking per slide seems to work well), come up with a script and just go over it again and again by myself until I can repeat it off by heart. I know a lot of people don't like to do that, but I find it helps because you know what you are going to say so well that it's very difficult to actually go blank. The other thing that I find helpful is to remember that everyone gets nervous presenting (including Lenin, incidentally, who had to pull out of talks on several occasions because of it!) and so not to be overwhelmed by it all. Hope it all goes ok anyway..


To sound boring and obvious: the key is to practice, practice and practice. Practice to the point where you're absolutely bored to tears with it. Some people will give one hour of practice per one minute of a presentation (lots of presentation websites suggest this). This reflects a massive amount of preparation that goes into giving a great presentation. Also practice to friends and family if you can, or at the very least to a mirror. When you know the presentation, lots of the nerves will disappear. Try to eradicate all 'erms' or other filler words from your presentation.

You need to bear in mind, you're going to give the presentation no matter what happens, so it's just up to you whether you punish yourself with nerves or just muster up the confidence - I know that's easier said than done, but you'll kick yourself after the presentation for allowing your nerves to get the better of you during the preparation stage.


Hi Spacey,

From a practical point of view, PowerPoint has a "Speaker's Notes" function: you can add descriptions of each slide, and you will be able to see them but your audience will not. This helps in case of your mind going blank (which is unlikely).

As for nerves: they will subside within a minute of getting up there. I try to have a brief chat while I'm sending handouts round; that breaks the ice. And include the audience by inviting questions as you go through. That always helps for me, anyway.


As for the practicalities, you can either use a script or small cards with key notes. Most professional presentators/trainers will advise against a script, but I find if the presenation is very technical, a script is the best way to go. Of course, you have to know the script inside out - you can't just resort to reading off it.

A good presentator will never improvise - every point that is said will be known in advance. Check out some presentations by Steve Jobs. He looks like he's improvising, but he isn't.



If you follow the advise about loads of preparation you will be fine. You'll still be nervous but will pull it off and feel great afterwords. I loathe public speaking and everyone knows I'm nervous because I come out in red blotches all over my neck and face. Its a real psychological effort to ignore this, but it is doable if I'm well prepared in advance and therefore confident that I know what I'm talking about. Also try to anticipate possible questions. If I can speak in public anyone can!

One of my tricks is to focus on the time just after the talk, its only 30 minutes or so - afterwards you can have a nice relaxing drink.

Good luck.


The only other peice of advise I can give is to speak slowly and clearly. I was told once that you need to speak much more slowly than you think you do, inorder for it to travel to the back of the room. I personally find that this is my one problem when public speaking. Good luck!


I find the more confidence I have in the topic (my knowledge, experience etc); the easier I find to present the material. The worst is presenting on a topic you are unsure about.

Maybe you want to start with what you want the audience to learn and get from your presentation; this may help the structure and flow; but also the style.

no more than 1 slide per minute, include lots of pictures (but not nessessarily complex diagrams), and not too much text. Also - don't just read the slides; each slide can be a summary of what you are talking about.

Don't forget the trick - if facing a tricky question. "if you will allow me - I would prefer to give you a fuller answer at the end of this Q&A..." or that kinda thing.


I don't know what discipline you are in but I am in arts/humanities and have been to three conferences very recently where I have had chance to chat with the other presenters. The reality seems to be quite different from the ideal. Most have been working on their papers the night before the conference so no-one really does much practice beforehand. The majority have scripts to read from but ad libbing and not reading directly from the script is common. People usually mention previous papers if relevant so there is an element of adding new material.
Almost all the papers at these conferences were fascinating and those that weren't as good were due to the presenter reading directly from the script and not even looking up. So I would say using a script is fine but make sure you engage with the audience as well.
An amusing anecdote or even jokes here and there are fine if you feel it is appropriate. Unless you are on first you can usually gauge this from other speakers.


Just to say that I have presented my research for the first time at these three conferences I went to and was nervous, thinking everybody else was more confident and knowledgeable. But it went fine - even the one where I spilt tea on my laptop the night before and then got lost on the way to one conference turning up with five minutes to spare when I was first on! No time to be nervous. The main point is though that I met some great people, all in the same situation, had a really good time and now feel much more confident about my research and about presenting again. My next conference is the biggest medieval conference in Europe. This time last year I was terrified but now I am really looking forward to it so confidence does grow over time.


Thanks so much everyone! You've all given great advice. I like the idea of the Powerpoint, which seems to break it up, knowing that you will be speaking for a certain amount of minutes per slide. Also, there's a visual prompt there which will allow me to flow a bit better I think. I basically didn't want to go up there and seem stiff! I'm going to have to overcome this fear I have of presenting. I know I have to get over this, and I guess the only way is to jump in!


I wanted to ask as well: Do you get people who just read their papers at conferences? How is this seen by others? I would like to avoid doing that.


Try the 'power of now', there is no point looking so far ahead, since there is nothing you can do about it, the past and the future do not exist... only this moment in time. The problem with nerves are that you try to control a future event (like you can do something about it?), the only situations you should concern your mind with are those that you can control at this moment. Though this is easier said than done, it does put things into perspective. Never look so far ahead, think about it, it seems to work.