Overcoming Presenter Performance Anxiety: Learning Smart-Step Change Process

Overcoming Leader-Presenter Performance Anxiety: Smart-Step Process 

At first look, perfectionism must be measured against reality and reasonable expectations given experience and skill levels. It can be a motivator for improvement but also can be an inhibitor for performance and self-concept development. Sometimes it appears when a person uses severe and negative self-talk! Usually, a presenter who lacks confidence in their ability or mastery of material can be root causes.

Many presenters, despite their intelligence, suffer from performance anxiety. One of the roots for anxiety is perfectionism. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Perfectionists tend to be highly motivated, want to succeed, and strive to be the best. However, perfectionism has many downsides. Perfectionists often don’t develop full confidence in their ability because they or others have such high expectations for them. Their fear of failure overrides their need to take risks and learn from their experiences. Because perfectionists are highly motivated and really want to succeed, they practice a lot and are hard on themselves and ignore their need to manage their emotions. These disadvantages can destroy their confidence, authenticity and spontaneity.

A hallmark sign of perfectionists: They spend a lot of time training and practicing, then under-perform when on stage. Lack of confidence due to high expectations is the culprit. Often, when presenting their focus is on themselves not on the audience needs. Unless they’re “perfect” they are failures. So expectations do not allow this type of leader-presenter to fully believe in their ability; they never stack up to expectations imposed from the inside out even if the audience is receptive to their message.

As a mental game coach for leaders and executives, I help my clients replace damaging expectations with mini-goals. I call this the Smart-Step process. It is all about establishing positive self-talk and developing realistic mini-goals.   Smart-Steps are more manageable in developing positive behavior changes. Smart-Steps allow presenters to focus on the process instead of judging their performance (based on expectations). Process goals help speakers focus on being in the moment and responding in a responsive ways to there audience needs. It helps them turn nervousness into positive energy and enthusiasm. These are essential components for connecting with others.

  • Monitor and Edit yourself. Presenters who avoid saying every critical thought when discussing touchy topics are consistently the most effective..
  • Sincerely listen and try to meet the audience needs, interest, opinions and concerns--do not try to give advice; try to listen and understand their needs and wants.  Show them that you have their best interest at heart.
  • Soften your “start up.” Be friendly and welcoming to participants. Arguments first “start up” because a presenter escalates an innocent comment into a conflict from the get-go by making a critical or disrespectful remark in a confrontational tone. Bring up differences gently and without blame.



  • Accept influence. A presentation succeeds to the extent that the presenter can accept influence from the audience members. If a woman says, “Do you have to work Thursday night? My mother is coming that weekend, and I need your help getting ready,” and her husband replies, “My plans are set, and I’m not changing them”. This guy is in a shaky marriage. A husband’s ability to be influenced by his wife (rather than vice-versa) is crucial because research shows women are already well practiced at accepting influence from men, and a true partnership only occurs when a husband can do so as well.
  • Have high standards. Leader-presenters have high standards and don’t expect perfection. The most successful couples are those who, even as newlyweds, refused to accept hurtful behavior from one another. The lower the level of tolerance for bad behavior in the beginning of a relationship, the happier the couple is down the road.
  • Respect and Encourage candid dialogue Understand how to become a better listener, give positive feedback, inspire people to take risks, and built a bond of trust. I learned that I have to model the good habits I’d like others to practice.  Without the glue of trust in a relationship there is no coaching. your partner and his or her feelings along the way (“I really appreciate and want to thank you for.…”). If an argument gets too heated, take a 20-minute break, and agree to approach the topic again when you are both calm
  • Focus on the optimistic “POV”. Try to understand person’s view of the world. In a coaching relationship that works and is satisfying, while discussing problems and solutions, the participants make at least five times as many positive statements to and about each other and their relationship as negative ones
  • Clarify and agree to expectations for your time together

Once you understand smart-step goals, they are really simple understand but the key to effectiveness is to practice them until they can be naturally executed. This approach is very powerful tool for helping presenters focus on keeping their message clear, concise and compelling. Process goals replace focusing on outcomes and help presenters focus on what is really important during performance – execution.


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