However, the moment I have to take the stage, the nerves take hold. My heart races, I start sweating, my breath quickens, and my knees are all but trembling.

Sure, getting nervous just before a presentation is a common thing that many of us have to deal with. The pressure of the moment, the expectations of the audience and myself, and the vulnerability of standing alone on stage all contribute to those trembling knees. That’s why the dreaded public speaking task is regularly used in scientific research to induce (social) stress during experiments.

What I find interesting is that, in this case, our brains don’t distinguish between different forms of stress. Whether it’s the stress of a life-threatening situation or the stress of delivering a presentation to an audience, our bodies respond in the same way, activated by our evolutionarily developed fight-or-flight mechanism. This explains why this reaction can sometimes feel overwhelming. In spite of this, we’re able to turn this stress reaction into energy and focus, allowing us actually to deliver a great and powerful presentation under pressure.

So what is my secret weapon in situations like these? I take a deep breath, I ground myself to control those trembling knees and I take a sip of water.

So, when you have your next presentation: take a deep breath, trust your preparation and let your passion for the subject guide you. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover that those annoying nerves ultimately contribute to positive energy, focus and a powerful presentation when you simply allow them to exist.

When all eyes are on me, I embrace the discomfort and accept its presence. I take a sip of water, take a deep breath and get to work. Get set and go!

Hanan El Marroun is a professor of Biological Psychology.

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