Don’t Forget to Breathe!

posted in: STEM Education | 0

How Teachers Can Make a Difference

Everyone breathes. It’s one of the most natural things we do. Something else natural that we do is get nervous before a presentation. This is especially true with students because they fear failure, criticism, judgment, embarrassment, comparison, or rejection. Physically, nervousness and anxiety may cause an increased heart rate, a queasy stomach, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, weak knees, dry mouth, a quivering voice, blushing, muscle tension, headache, stuttering, lightheadedness, or, even fainting!





WOW, so how do you keep your students calm before and during the upcoming state science fair?   The good news is: There are no negative consequences from feeling nervous; the trick is to avoid showing it.” Remind your students that the judges cannot see how they feel; the judges can only see how the student looks and acts. Therefore, when they learn how to look and act calm, confident, and composed on the outside, that’s likely what their judges will perceive.

Here are 8 tips to share with your students to help calm nerves before the science fair:

  1. There’s no better way to calm nerves and ensure a winning presentation or performance than to rehearse aloud, with an audience (even family members & friends) if possible and ask them to give honest feedback.
  2. Visualize success.Sports psychologists have proven that an athlete’s ability to vividly visualize his or her success creates a higher win rate. Before the presentation, mentally walk through the presentation or performance. Picture speaking with a judge with confidence and poise; see him/her respond positively.
  3. Memorize the opening few sentences.The beginning of the presentation often carries a rush of adrenalin. Learning the first few sentences really well can empower your student to start strong and make a confident first impression despite nervousness.
  4. Figure out what your 2-3 key messages are. Be sure to include these in your opening summary of the project. When asked a question that is ‘off topic,’ answer as best you can and then bring the conversation back to your key messages.
  5. Remind them of the two “audience truths.”1) They believe you’re the expert, and you are.  You know more about every part of your project and the thinking behind each decision you made than your judge.  2) They want you to succeed, so they’re on your side.
  6. Use the restroom. First things first. Needing the toilet when you wouldn’t normally ‘have to,” is a common reaction to anxiety and pre-presentation jitters. Why take chances? Plan ahead and use the restroom in the moments prior to judging.
  7. Take several deep belly breaths.Since anxiety tightens the muscles in the chest and throat, it’s important to diminish that restricting effect with deep inhalations. Don’t underestimate the power of a long, slow, deep breath. It maximizes the amount of oxygen that flows to the lungs and brains; interrupts the adrenalin-pumping “fight or flight” responses; and triggers the body’s normal relaxation response. As you see the judge walking over to you, breathe deeply and deliberately.
  8. Maintain a positive, pleasant expression on your face in the moments before speaking. Smiling actually relaxes the body. Physiologically, smiling emits endorphins in the brain that calms the nerves.  Plus, a smile conveys confidence and self-assurance. It shows the judge that your student is enthusiastic about their project.

Is it possible to completely get over a fear of making a presentation to a science fair judge? Only with experience – the more you do it, the more comfortable it feels. So practice, practice, practice…as much as possible, before the day of the science fair.