Dealing with nerves in presentations – a new technique: Sentence Zero

Sentence Zero

Sentence Zero is the sentence you don’t say!

zeroThe first things you say when you’re nervous, in a high pressure situation tend to be the ones that make the first impression and yet, unfortunately, they’re also the ones that make you sound the most anxious and least confident.

A great way of dealing with this is to let out much of the air in your lungs before you start to speak.

It’s very helpful to consider having a sentence that you say in your head, before your first ‘real’ sentence. This silent sentence is said in your head while you let air out of your lungs and then the first sentence of your presentation (or negotiation or… etc) is delivered as a continuation of the exhalation.

It is important not to take a quick in-breath again between the silent sentence and the verbalised one, as this rather defeats the whole point of the exercise!

In the example below, the whole thing would be said in one breath but only the non-italisized  portion of it would be vocalised:

I must remember to say hello to everyone in the room and not the nearestGood morning; my name is David and I’m here to negotiate on behalf of The Smith Family.

The lack of a space between ‘nearest’ and ‘Good’ is deliberate, to indicate that this is a continual fluid movement not a stilted artifice.  To help make things sound more natural you will probably find it useful to develop your own Sentence Zero. However, to help get you started you may find the following to be good starting points, depending on circumstances:

  • This is a big room I’ll need to speak slowlyHello everyone. Today’s seminar is…
  • There are X people in the room, which is one more than I expectedGood morning, shall we begin?
  • The lighting in this room makes the blinds on the windows look greenMy name is Daniel Pinkerton, welcome to our meeting room.
  • Gosh there are a lot of lights around the cameraGood morning, my name is Dr Simon Raybould.
  • It’s important that I don’t let this meeting over-runHello gentlemen; has everyone been introduced?

Don’t be confused if this technique takes some getting used to: with very little practice it can become second nature. If you find the concept of a sentence in your head to be little too confusing to handle in the heat of the moment you can use a simply sigh, although this is very often not quite so effective. You should experiment to see what the best approach is for you.

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.