If the thought of teaching in a live classroom makes you break out in a sweat, you’re not alone. Plenty of instructors feel anxious about their performance in the classroom and fear the potential symptoms—shaky voice, trembling hands—that might impact their ability to teach effectively.
We’re here to help. All of the techniques listed below work well for anyone who has to lead a group, including project facilitators, managers, or employees who need to give a presentation to potential clients.
Here are our tips for dealing with stage fright in the classroom
Tactical breathing is a technique used by soldiers, police offers, and SWAT team members to continue performing effectively when the fear response is high. Try this breathing exercise for 2-3 minutes before entering a classroom, or even while someone in the audience is speaking and you’re simply listening.
Start by drawing in a slow breath to the count of 4.
Hold that breath for the count of 4.
Slowly exhale to the count of 4.
After a few cycles of tactical breathing, you’ll notice a calming sensation in your legs, arms, and torso—that’s the parasympathetic system taking over and letting your body know there’s no need to run.
Shift the focus in the classroom
For some instructors or group leaders, anxiety arises from the feeling of having a room full of eyes in their direction. Being “in the spotlight” can create a sense of pressure that distracts you from the actual message you’re trying to deliver.
But here’s the secret: you’re in charge, and if you tell learners to shift their attention, they will. Breaking them into small groups to hash out a discussion question together, or asking someone to read a passage aloud can give you a break from the spotlight—and give your learners the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with their peers.
Practice may not always make perfect, but it does build a familiarity into your presentation or lecture that will keep you calm when it’s time to deliver.
Time yourself when practicing so you have a sense of how long the class will take. You don’t want to feel anxious when you see the clock moving too quickly—or not quickly enough—when you’re in front of your audience. Want to hear how your voice sounds ahead of time? Record yourself on video and watch it. You’ll likely discover that you appear much more confident and capable than you actually feel—which is a good reminder in the classroom, when you’re sweating buckets and wondering if anyone else notices.
Visualize your presentation going well
There’s a lot of good data to suggest that our minds have the power to shift our attitudes about even our biggest fears if we apply the power of imagination. Before your class, set aside some time to simply sit in a relaxed way and imagine your performance going as well as possible. Picture the confident posture you’ll have when you walk in the room, the eye contact you’ll make with learners. Conjure all the details—the sounds of learners shuffling papers, the smell of the whiteboard markers—and place yourself, poised and calm, at the center of it. Connecting a positive association with these details will give you a boost of comfort when you walk into the classroom for real.
Use a power stance all day long
When you’re in meetings, sit up straight and make eye contact with the person who’s speaking. When you stand, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your shoulders gently drawn back (in other words, don’t slump). When you ride in an elevator, stand in the middle, rather than leaning against the wall in the back.
Your body language doesn’t just affect other people—it influences the way you feel about yourself. So if you want to be confident, you need to project that physically. (One secret tip used by many academic professors to convey authority: Stride into the classroom right as the class is scheduled to begin, and toss your keys on the table or podium where you’ll be presenting. This gives the impression that you own the place, and can help you feel more self-assured.)
All of these methods can be applied throughout the day, every day—not just right before you need to get up and teach or give a presentation. Folding them into your daily life will increase your confidence levels in general, so that you feel cool and collected when it’s time to speak in front of a group.
Need more tips on effective presenting? Check out these articles:It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Are: The Experience of Embodied LeadershipHow Can Virtual Leaders Be Effective?Cultivating Instructor Presence in an Online Environment