By Vanessa Wasche, Fast Company

The days before a big presentation, an important meeting, or a one-on-one with a supervisor can be brutal. Even if you aren’t prone to fear public speaking, a critical or high-stakes event can invoke pre-traumatic stress that can range from unpleasant to nearly incapacitating.

The manifestations of nerves (avoidance, lack of focus, disrupted sleep) are all impediments to your ultimate goal of presenting your message and yourself in the best possible way.

Here are a few ways to address that anxiety head-on and refocus your efforts.

Divide and conquer

With such an event on the horizon, anxiety can skew your perspective, making the task seem outsized, and almost insurmountable. When this happens, it becomes difficult to prepare in a way that is helpful to you (you may want to throw your hands up entirely and just hope for the best).

One solution to this is to start by reminding yourself of the actual time you are expected to be speaking. For example, if your meeting is an hour, recognize that an hour is a limited amount of time. No matter how unpleasant you may be imagining this event, one hour is over in just one hour.

Now that you have that perspective, break down the event into even smaller pieces, concentrating on which pieces are creating the most anxiety. If it is a matter of preparation, you’ll know this is where you can focus nervous energy. If you are sensing that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, you may do well to reflect on this and seek support.

Whatever the cause of anxiety, breaking it down into more manageable pieces is the first step towards finding purposeful actions that will improve your outcome and alleviate some of the stress that public speaking and presenting at work can induce.

Release control

Uncertainty is at the root of much of the anxiety we experience surrounding public speaking and presenting at work. I would never advocate abandoning preparation and practice. But no matter how much work we put in ahead of time, there are always factors we can’t control.

As Dr. Elliot Cohen explains in Psychology Today, “The crux of the problem is the demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain. It is precisely this unrealistic demand that creates the anxiety.”

Perfectionism, or simply attempting to control the outcome and reaction to your presentation, will inevitably create anxiety and fear that your results will deviate from your goal. Relinquishing the need for control over the uncontrollable is the way to alleviate the anxiety of uncertainty.

This seems like a big ask, and it is (philosophers have been contemplating this for millennia, see: Stoicism, Buddhism, Taoism). But we start simply by just reminding ourselves to breathe, practice mindfulness, and stay open and flexible to obstacles that may become opportunities.

Then, a hostile question can become a chance to exhibit your expertise, a flubbed sentence can become a chance to smile and reveal your humanity, a PowerPoint error can give you the chance to speak off the cuff with more authenticity and power.

Embracing the uncertain may sound cliché, but it is through the uncertainty that you can achieve something you have not yet imagined.

Use a carrot

Once you’ve made it through your event (and you will), find a way to reward yourself for the effort. Perhaps it is a dessert at lunch, a fancy cocktail after work, or just a little more time with your favorite hobby.

The trick is to give yourself a nice dopamine rush. And then make this rush a habitual tool for every presentation, stressful meeting, or speaking event.

Triggering dopamine through self-reward allows you to control and develop a motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle. Each subsequent high-stakes event will become attached to positive association. This will add to your motivation in the lead-up and help refresh and renew your energy after you’ve achieved your goal.

While the run-up to a consequential presentation or meeting may induce dread or panic, there are actionable tools you can use to alleviate the worst of the anxiety and set yourself up for success.


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Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) Monday Morning Minute is crafted to provide decision-makers with important information about the economy, investments and corporate retirement plans in a format that allows a reader to consume the information in less than 60 seconds. As an independent, objective investment adviser, LRPC has access to many sources of research and shares the best and most relevant information with its readers each week.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to employer retirement plan sponsors. The firm specializes in sustainable investment strategies for retirement plans that incorporate Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) factors and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) elements. LRPC currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than a half billion dollars in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or or visit the firm’s website at Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

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This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, a plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.