Improve Your Presentations & Reduce Stress by Developing a Pre-Performance Ritual

Public speaking can be stressful. But, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

Take a note from athletes, doctors, artists and other folks who are “performing” a task and create a pre-performance routine.

control stress, improve confidence

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What is a pre-performance routine, you ask?

It’s simply a consistent procedure that performers use to prepare themselves for the competition, task or performance that lies ahead. To be even more specific, I grabbed this from

A pre-performance routine is defined as ‘Sequence of task relevant thoughts and actions which an athlete engages in systematically prior to his or her performance of a specific sport skill.’(Moran, 1996, p177). This definition highlights that a routine needs to be task specific, systematic and engaged with.

You’ll notice it talks about athletes, but really, but what’s the difference? They’re going into competition, yes, but they hoping to perform at their peak – just like a presenter.

So why does it work?

The reason is these routines serve to allow the person to zone in or focus all of their attention on the one task, priming their brain for the confidence and attention it will need to master what’s next.

This is nothing new. It’s an age-old tactic is common among many successful performers from musicians, to athletes to surgeons to presenters. They work because they allow the performer to control stress and feel more in control, confident and prepared.

If you have a pre-event ritual or routine, over time you’ll have practices that ritual more often as you’ve practiced your performance. It becomes one of the only constants in a forever changing landscape – think different presentations to different crowds in different locations and different stages, etc. You get the point.

They help folks to focus on what’s in their control, leading to the feeling of more control overall.

What are some examples of pre-performance routines?

A pre-event routine can be found to fit into two categories – thoughts and actions. Below you’ll find examples of a combination of the two:

  • Basketball players bouncing a ball three times before taking a foul shot.
  • Golfers doing a practice swing.
  • Surgeons completing a checklist.
  • Completing the same number of actions or behaviors a set number of times before completing the task.
  • Reciting a quote or a prayer.
  • Envisioning success or mental rehearsal. An example might be before putting, a golfer may take 30 seconds to rehearse the putt in their head and the outcome they’d like.
  • Breathing techniques. We’ve talked about breathing techniques before as they can help reduce muscle tension and gather more oxygen for the brain, check them out here.
  • Power poses. This is a must for any presenter.

Notice these are different than superstitions – like wearing lucky socks or tie. People think that by wearing lucky socks or underwear (like Michael Jordan), it will lead to a specific outcome. Routines and rituals put the control in your hand – versus your lucky socks’.

Tips for creating your own routine:

  • It can be as little or as long of a time-frame that you’d like – when presenting.
  • A routine will take time to establish (Beauchamp et al, 1996).
  • Be flexible with the routine over time, as your skill develops your routine will need little changes along the way (Fitts & Posner, 1967).
  • Keep it positive.
  • Everyone’s is different, so find what’s right for you.

Lastly, remember that a healthy amount of “nervousness” is a good thing.  I recently read an article on HuffPost that stated that the “nervousness” or “stress” that many feel before performing (no matter the event, sport, stage) can easily be better positioned as the more positive fraternal twin - excitement. The reason is because both nervousness and excitement are portrayed in your body the same way – increased heart rate, lack of focus, shaking hands (or freezing hands in my case).

If you want to learn more about repositioning the stress as excitement, you can also read the following article from Psychology Today that documents a mother’s journey to better position her stress.

5 Power Poses to Hold Before Speaking to Improve Confidence on Stage

Back in 2012, social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave her first TED talk on body language. Today, this TED talk is the second most-watched video on TED and has propelled Amy Cuddy’s concept of “power posing” into mainstream conversations everywhere.

If you’ve seen her talk, you know why it’s captivated people everywhere.

Her advice on how our body speaks is valuable information for people looking to increase their confidence and comfort level in all situations.

The concept is straightforward, by holding a particular type of pose for two or more minutes, a person’s body chemistry temporarily produces increased levels of testosterone. Testosterone, as she asserts, is the hormone which translates into confidence.

And who doesn’t want more confidence?

This article provides guidance on five power poses and how you can make the most of each one.

The 5 power poses. 

Use these in conjunction with the tips down below to make the most of each pose:


This one is my personal favorite as it’s easy to perform anywhere and still looks natural.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and put your hands on your hips – and stand tall.
Super Woman Power Pose


The winner:

I made up the name, but that’s what the pose reminds me of – the pose people take immediately after they’ve won an award or achieved something which felt previously impossible.
This pose is a natural pose of pride and power as research shows people who are blind from birth naturally elevate their arms in the air when winning a competition.
There are so many memorable photographs capturing the distinct moment when a competitor realizes they’ve won. Here’s just one example from the legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali.
To do this,  stand tall and place arms stretched entirely out in the air.


The boss:

I made this name up too, but it translates nicely. How many times have you walked by a conference room and seen someone holding this pose? Who was maintaining it?
“The boss” is the boldest pose of them all. Be sure to use this sparingly and only in the right situations. Consider what it might look like if you were to take “the boss” pose in front of your boss. I recommend doing this pose before a meeting occurs.
Sit back in your chair and stretch your arms out and place your hands behind your head, causing your elbows to be facing outward. Think of a boss and how they’d pose, they’d probably put their feet up if possible, so if possible, do that too.
power pose the ceo
That’s me, @sbedrick

The CEO:

Lean in by leaning back.

The CEO is a subtle pose that appears confident without the confrontation. It emphasizes quiet confidence by opening up the body naturally. Cuddy named it“The CEO” after seeing a photo of Oprah Winfrey looking like a total boss.

Variations include placing your hands behind your head and resting an ankle on the knee.

power power pose - the bossThat’s me too, @sbedrick.

The Loomer:

Lean into the table and even stand over it a bit for added confidence. This pose isn’t great to do in a meeting unless it calls for it. You’ll know when that time comes.

Power Pose the Loomer


FOLLOW THESE 4 TIPS to get the most out of your power poses:

1. Take up as much space as possible.
Find ways to stretch out. You might feel weird at first, but that’s normal.

As Cuddy wrote on The Harvard Business Review blog, “This isn’t about what your body language is communicating to others; it’s about what your body language is communicating to you: your body language is changing your mind, which changes your behavior, which changes your outcomes.” As Business Insider states, it works across the Animal Kingdom too. When primates feel powerful and strong, they puff out their chests and extend their limbs to make themselves larger than they are.

2. Stand tall.
Good posture is always beneficial. But good posture is even more essential when trying to build credibility on stage and improve your confidence.

3. Use your hands – don’t hide them.
Hiding your hands speaks volumes about your body language, and it may even signify that you have something to hide.

Keep your hands free, so you’re able to move them freely. Avoiding keeping your hands in your pockets as it is often poorly received by the audience, and it can lead your body and mind to feel stifled.

If you’re advanced, use your hands (along with your body) to enhance your story. Two of my favorite tips I learned from a college communication class was to keep your hands open with the palms facing up. Being able to easily see palms subconsciously signals to others that you are being honest. If your hands face downward, it can subconsciously indicates the opposite, you have something to hide. The other tip is to put your pointer finger and thumb together, like the “okay” sign, when making a point. Then slowly move your hand to the pace of your speech. This will perk the audience up as it signals that you’re making an important point.

4. Smile.
Smiles exude confidence. They’re contagious and people like being around others that appear happy. And according to a 2011 TED talk by Ron Gutman titled “The Hidden Power of Smiling,” smiles “help reduce the level of strew-enhancing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine” and instead they “increase the level of mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins and reduce blood pressure.” Smile a bit before and as you take the stage and you’ll fool your body into building confidence and reducing your stress levels and even potentially win over your crowd before you open your mouth.

What about you – do you ever hold power poses when you need a boost of confidence? How does it make you feel? Try it next time when you’re in a meeting, or before you get on stage to present, and notice how it impacts your confidence.

4 More Popular Rookie Mistakes of Public Speaking

A month or so ago, I had the honor and privilege of writing a fun blog post for one of my favorite public speaking blogs – Big Fish Presentations.

I wrote about the top 7 rookie mistakes of pubic speaking and I think it came out pretty good. I’ve spent over three years honing my speaking skills, watching others hone in their skills too — and with all of this time, I’ve actually learned a thing or two.

The moment the blog post went live, I’d realized a few other popular “rookie mistakes” which I’ve decided to compile below. Although, be sure to first get caught up on the initial blog post which inspired this post – 7 Rookie Mistakes of Public Speaking.

8:  Apologizing to the audience. 

We’ve all heard it before – and apology from a presenter about not preparing enough, tech malfunctions noticing a typo on a slide or even apologizing about how they might be “off” because of a lack of sleep.  There is no better way to look like an amateur than by committing these mistakes, then announcing them. We know why you’re doing it, but it doesn’t work.

Another reason this might come off poorly is, as Geoffrey James over at INC points out, it causes you to start off on a negative note and look like the victim from the very beginning. Or worse, it can make the person look out of control and like somebody who tends to make excuses, especially in the instances that could have been solved or even prepared for beforehand.

photo symbolizing to not apologize for silly things

How to avoid this mistake: Don’t bring your sins to light. Ignore them, and those typos. Often times the audience won’t notice, but if they do, there is no reason to call yourself – or an egregious slide error to attention. If you’re in the need of a pick-me-up, there is always caffeine or there are a few breathing techniques that can awaken your mind.

9: Covering too much information.

This mistake is quite easy to make and many of us have been on the receiving end of too much information. Many people will first ask – how do I even know if I’m covering too much information? Well, there are a few good tell-tale signs and they are as follows:

  • You’re constantly going over time during each dry run.
  • The folks who you’ve asked to give you feedback nicely mention that it is a little long or – “full of content.”
  • You’re covering more than one major topic. While you will cover more that fall under this umbrella topic – trying to hold too many umbrellas in one presentation can cause confusion, or cause folks to feel overwhelmed.
  • You’re finding your slides to be chock-full of words.
  • You want your audience to remember/learn more than five items. Usually, three is a golden number, but sometimes that isn’t enough. It is probably a good rule of thumb not to cover more than five points.

How to avoid this mistake: Do multiple dry-runs and time yourself, or better yet – videotape yourself. This way you can see how your time stacks up and how your content might be perceived by the audience. Also considering asking a friend or two to sit in and provide you with honest feedback in regards to the content And lastly, if you’re covering too much – don’t be afraid to “kill your darlings.” Your darlings are referred to the parts of your content or story that you absolutely love, but don’t actually add value. Be a harsh critic on yourself to find where the darlings lie, and then use good judgment on whether they’re valuable to the topic being presented.

10: Unusual (and awkward) body movements. 

In the other article on Big Fish we talk a bit about body language as well, but here I’m referring strictly to the ones that are especially awkward. You know – the ones that people can’t help but notice, no matter how great your content is. The reason these are so bad is because they’re the unconscious body language ticks that arise – and many presenters might not even be aware that they’re doing. And in a previous post, we already established that it’s not “what you say that” that matters but really “how you’re saying it” as body language accounts for 93% of communication that occurs. Some uncommon body movements to be aware of:

  • Shifting from body weight on one leg then the other. This is especially apparent in men, but doing this continuously can easily give off the impression of uneasiness in the presenters self or information.
  • Playing/fidgeting with hair and/or jewelry. This is one is more of a female phenomenon. The reason it occurs is that we find solace and comfort in touching our hair or even fidgeting with a piece of jewelry. However, if done too much, it can be distracting and give off the impression of – you guessed it – uneasiness.  One last thing, another INC article suggests that this could be also our unconscious need to always look our best – thus the constant grooming.
  • Small scale gestures: Also referred to in the business as “t-rex arms.” These are the obviously too small-scale gestures that nobody would do in their actual daily life. It’s usually a symptom of being uncomfortable being on stage.
  • Large scale gestures: When the gestures are obviously too large for the topic or the presenter, it comes across as disingenuous – which no presenter should be with their audience.  Try to make sure you’re not overcompensating for nervousness by going overboard with the gestures.
Dreaded t-rex arm gestures.

Dreaded t-rex arm gestures.

How to avoid this mistake: Practice – and practice with a purpose. Record yourself with video while presenting to a group of friends in a somewhat formal environment, and be sure to pretend as if this were the actual presentation. Mimicking the situation that you’ll be in will help you to identify, from the video and your friends, any non-verbal ticks that might arise.

11: Not knowing when to stop.

As any good comedian will tell you, they have a few jokes they plan to end on, but if one is a slam dunk and gets a ton of laughs – that’s where they’ll stop. Of course, they could chance it and continue on with their jokes in the hopes that they continue to get funnier and funnier (is that a word now?). However, most of the experts will tell you that it’s not worth it – they recommend always ending on a high note.

And to be quite honest, this is something you’ll see tons of newbs do too. They are finally getting their moment up in front of others, they’re actually starting to enjoy it and people seem to be enjoying it too. If they’re getting laughs, some folks will try to get more and more laughs and while that might be true – there always comes a point, if it’s too long, when people wonder when it will be over.  Or worse, they end on a … not so great note.

"When you hit that high note, say goodnight and walk off." Flickr User: alan-light

“When you hit that high note, say goodnight and walk off.”
Flickr User: alan-light


How to avoid this mistake: Stack the deck – or presentation in this case – in your favor. Ensure you have a strong, profound statement or call to action to end with to ensure proper closure. And if there is any time you’re thinking about “winging it” – the closing is not the ideal time.

These are a few of the other rookie presentations mistakes to avoid. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the other post to see the first 7 and leave your thoughts below.