Dealing with Speaker Jitters – Eight Ways to Take Charge

Jen Wilcox Lectures About CO2 Capture from Air

It’s rare for a scientist to take the stage to deliver a presentation or sit across the table from important decision makers without being hit by an adrenaline rush. Here are eight ways you can take charge when speaker jitters hit.


  1. Use Them. The jitters give you a fight or flight burst of energy that you can put to work to make your voice louder and your gestures bigger.  Let that energy shine through as the passion that inspires you to pursue your science.
  2. Dissipate Them. Shake off some excess energy by running in place or doing your best impersonation of Michael Phelps before an Olympic swim race – somewhere out of view of your audience. Circle your arms, stretch your chest, loosen your neck muscles, shrug your shoulders.
  3. Prepare for Them.  Know exactly what you will say to start and end your talk. Map out your messages and the transition phrases that will move you smoothly from one point to the next. Study your slides from thumbnails by printing handouts, nine per page, until you can picture the order in your mind with your eyes closed.
  4. Calm Them.  Take slow, deep breaths to help relieve that flutter in your belly and tightness in your throat.  Try Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8- breathing technique or a popular yoga practice known as alternate nostril breathing which helps balance your nervous system.
  5. Deflate Them.    Mental rehearsal, where you relax while you visualize yourself standing in front of your listeners successfully delivering your talk, is a proven technique for improving performance. Anticipate what might go wrong, like what you’ll do if your slides don’t start or how you will answer tough questions.
  6. Conceal Them.  Don’t say you are nervous. Even though you think it shows, it feels more visible to you than it actually is to the people watching you.  If you are someone who sweats visibly, wear dark clothes.
  7. Outsmart Them.  Make conversational eye contact so it feels like you are connecting with and talking to one person at a time, even if there are fifty sets of eyes looking at you. Give yourself a confidence building pep talk just before you speak. Adopt an “I’ve got this and I’m well prepared” mindset.
  8. Reframe Them. Instead of telling yourself how nervous you are, recast your jitters as undeniable proof that you are excited about the opportunity to talk about your science and share your work with decision makers who have the power to turn ideas into impact.