“There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.” – Mark Twain.
Every speaker has feelings of nervousness or anxiousness before taking the stage. And that’s okay. The important piece is to not let your nerves get the best of you and to learn to focus that energy in a positive way – like turning it into excitement.
Below are five different ways to help reduce performance anxiety and calm your nerves before taking the stage to present.
Have you ever heard the old adage, “It”s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? Of course you have, and that’s because it is true. Research indicates that your nonverbal queues are what account for the major percentage of communication. This means the clothes you wear, the way you wear them, your hair styles, personal hygiene, body stance, vocal pitch, vocal intonations and so much more – that you don’t say – actually are what can help impart your message to the audience, or distract from it.
Takeaway: Set yourself up for success before you even take the stage by making sure you have on appropriate attire and good personal hygiene. Take this a step further by finding a type of outfit, color or something else that you can wear that makes you not only feel appropriate, but also like a million dollars. If you feel like a million dollars, your confidence will permeate right through it.
Get enough rest:
Sleep plays a major role in your mental health and physical health. And the way that you feel while you’re awake, depends largely on the amount and the quality of your sleep. If you’ve had a good night sleep your body is able to support your body and your brain to make sure you’re able to perform your best. No foggy brains allowed here.
Takeaway: Most everybody is nervous before presenting, thus the sleep leading up to the day of your presentation is important. An hour or two before getting into bed, find ways to calm your brain from your presentation. It may be a good idea to walk-through your presentation with the intention of it being your last time, or create a to-do list for the next day to release it from your brain. And then as you’re trying to fall asleep, find a familiar and comfortable position that can assist in the progression of sleep. Meditation, focused breathing and even some relaxing chamomile tea can help your body feel more relaxed and ready for sleep as well. If you want to learn more ways to natural fall asleep, check out this Huffington Post article.
“Fake it until you become it” is the famous line from social psychologist, Amy Cuddy. Our body doesn’t only convey a message to others non-verbally, it helps define who we are and how we view ourselves. Cuddy’s research found that these power poses will increase testosterone, the dominance gene, and decrease the stress hormone, cortisol – enabling you to feel more confident. Thus, just a few minutes of power-posing will actually change your body chemistry to help enhance your performance.
Takeaway: Take advantage of this by completing power poses for 2 or more minutes before each presentation. The following images come directly from Cuddy’s TED Talk and are just two of the ones you can do beforehand. I’m a fan of the “superwoman” pose on the right.
Understand that what you’re feeling is completely normal. And understand, the more you prepare for your presentations and the more you speak, the more comfortable you’ll become over time. Because let’s face it, becoming comfortable with public speaking doesn’t just happen overnight. However, a few simple breathing techniques can help you to either calm down or brighten up with energy.
Equal breathing for relaxation:
Take a deep breath in for four counts through your nose, and then exhale for four counts through your nose. Breathing through your nose will add natural resistance to the breath. This technique is best for relaxation as it will help your mind focus away from your racing thoughts before taking the stage. Bonus, this can even be used before falling asleep.
Abdominal breathing for focus:
Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on the belly. Deeply inhale through the nose, making sure the diaphragm – not the chest – inflates. You want to take in enough air to stretch the lungs. Shoot for 6 – 10 deep, slow breaths each minute for 10 minutes total. This technique has been known to help folks see an immediate decrease in heart rate, as well as blood pressure. This can be done before any upcoming stressful even like before a major interview, exam or even before meeting your significant other’s parents.
Alternate nostril breathing
My personal favorite and a little more difficult. Place your right thumb on your right nostril and breath in as deep as you can. Then at the moment of no more inhalation, plug your left nostril with your right hand’s ring finger – and let go of your right nostril and exhale all the way. Then repeat immediately with your left nostril plugged. Nadi shodhana said this breathing technique will help to “clear the channels” and acts as a cup of coffee giving you immediate energy and focus.
Bonus: If you really want to help train and pace your breath – try To McConnell’s biofeedback Breathe Strong app.
Remember, have a good time.
If you’ve practiced and created a great presentation for your audience, now is the time to just relax and have fun with it. Recent research has indicated there are many benefits of being in a natural and relaxed state - like added mental focus, improved immune system, improved body awareness, etc. These might seem like small things, but when you’re relaxed your body will thank you by helping you perform better, but also your audience will be more relaxed as well.
Takeaway: When you’re relaxed and having fun, your natural passion for what your saying will shine through. And when you’re more relaxed, your audience will be too, which is actually quite important as they’re looking to you to provide a great experience. You are also able to better “roll with the punches” and also let go of any thoughts that you have to be “perfect.” Because let’s face it – nobody is perfect.
Lastly, just be yourself. When you’re not trying to be Simon Sinek, Zig Ziglar or Nancy Duarte, you’re able to be you – which is the most natural of all.
Remember: “It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.” -Rob Gilbert
Do you have any techqniues that you use to relax before taking the stage? If so, feel free to share them below.