Presentation Skills

How do I control my nerves?

How do I use my hands?

Henry Caplan

Henry Caplan has vast experience as a corporate coach, working with executives in a variety of industries. Henry’s unique style of coaching is to offer up a mixture of finely crafted tools, strategies and repeatable techniques, to help motivate and inspire his clients to be more dynamic and compelling when presenting.

Presenting, whether it is to a few colleagues or a huge audience, can be a daunting experience, and one seemingly full of pitfalls. We are often asked by our delegates “How do I control my nerves? How do I use my hands?”

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Henry Caplan is going to give us some of his expert advice on “what not to do” and “what to do” when giving a presentation.


Failing to move your hands during a presentation is a sure way of making you look stiff and nervous. I recommend starting with a relaxed one-hand-over-the-other, in front of you at stomach level. This is “hands at rest”, a fixed position when we want to be still.

The next position is “hands in motion”. You are actually quite impactful when you use your hands to illustrate a point. Then, when you complete a gesture, back to “hands at rest”.

I’m not a fan of presenters holding a pencil, pen, notes, clicker or the podium. It tends to be either distracting or dampen the energy in the room.

Around hands, the only question I ever ask is “are you moving them with purpose?”

I’m often asked – can I have my hands by my side? Absolutely, as long as they are not behind your back, in your pockets, flailing around or clasping onto something for dear life.



Often our nerves are internalised. There is always a difference between our perception of ourselves and how others see us. Sometimes this perspective can help with nerves as well. So, when practicing, seek out feedback from people you trust when practicing. During your presentation take your time and try to enjoy your moment; chances are you don’t look anywhere near as nervous as you feel. Remember, trying to deny nerves makes them worse. You can use nerves as energy.

  • Practice – Remember to practice out loud. The beginning can often be the most nerve racking and it’s the simplest stuff that can give us the most trouble. “Good morning…my name is…” It’s in these opening few minutes that we have an opportunity to make a strong impression. Practicing with a real person will help you get used to an audience and the exchange of energy that is required to begin a presentation.
  • Lean bullet points – I recommend an introduction that is mapped out with lean bullet points rather then full sentences. That way, the introduction can be spontaneous and alive.
  • Preparation – If possible, arrange the set-up to meet your needs. Find out how the lighting, podium, room and microphone, will be set-up. Maybe even practice in the space if you can. By eliminating as many surprises as possible, you stand a better chance of controlling your nerves.
  • Taking deep breaths – Remember the way to manage nerves is to focus on something else. Taking deep breaths before you begin will help you feel more in control of your nerves and supplies much needed oxygen to the brain. This will help you focus outwards rather then inwards.
  • Look at your audience – Look at individuals in your audience. Really look at them before you open your mouth. Find a few friendly faces if possible and start with them. Keep focusing outwards. Keep inviting them into your talk.



Experts make mistakes or rephrase a point in conversation and we barely notice. It’s often the feelings of shame around a mistake that let us down. So slow down, breathe, say something positive to yourself, get the next thought in your head and focus on your audience. If you need to re-iterate a point you perhaps garbled or gave incorrect information for, calmly correct yourself and don’t apologise; apologising is unnecessary, wastes time, and can make you look less confident.



If you can ask a question as you set up, you are already building the relationship and establishing rapport with your audience. By identifying your audience as individuals, you can also manage nerves. Sometimes even starting a talk with a question can create a response that helps you focus outwards and reduces nerves.

Many presentations begin with ‘so… um…’ and we all have moments where fillers creep in. They take up space and they make us look unprofessional or unprepared, even when we’re not. Instead of saying ‘errr…’ as you move to the next point or answer a question, take your time if you have to. Silence for a couple of seconds is more powerful than a ‘well, er, anyway…’ ever will be.



The most frequent mistake people make around content is to focus on what they want to say, as opposed to what their audience wants to hear and in the order they need to hear it.

In my professional experience I think a strong, short introduction is very important.

A strong introduction should include:

  • Getting to the point
  • Having a hook
  • Delivering a message in one sentence

While preparing your introduction keep thinking about:

  • What will my audience want to know
  • In what order will they want to have the information presented to them

Your conclusion should be short and have a strong call to action. As listeners we are always consciously or unconsciously asking “Why should I care?”


Henry’s most important advice…
You will always look and sound better than you feel when giving a presentation. If you take the attention away from yourself and focus on delivering your message to your audience as individuals, you will break through being self-conscious, appear more confident, and have more impact.

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