Presentation anxiety is an evil nemesis if left untamed, and one that even the most seasoned speakers are not immune to. If you're freaked out with nerves you won't be able to remember the speech you've invested many hours creating, engage the people you want to connect with or influence people who you'd like to persuade.
We've all heard the story that most people would rather choose death than public speaking. Death wouldn't be my choice. I'd choose the podium first rather than signing up for six feet under. Here's why. When public speaking anxiety rears its ugly head, it can be dampened down and managed easily with practice and a handful of tried-and-tested techniques.
Here are five ways to get your presentation anxiety under control.
Jab Your Way To Calmness
Before your presentation while you're in the bathroom checking for spinach in your teeth, that your tie is straight, or you're not dragging TP from your heels, head over to a bathroom stall. In the confines of cubicle privacy, try a minute or two of boxing jabs. A few lefts and a few rights and you'll have your adrenaline dropping to a manageable place on the heart racing scale. Fear and excitement feel very similar in our bodies, so it's up to you to use adrenaline to your advantage.
Don't Forget To Breathe
When you arrive at the podium, take two deep belly breaths in and slowly exhale each one. While you're taking in those relaxing breaths, look around the room and smile. Don't worry, nobody will notice as you take your time to breathe -- they'll think your composing yourself. What seems like an excruciatingly long two seconds for you, will seem like a normal two seconds for them. Priming yourself with intentional breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you get out of your head and focused on the calmness in your body.
Feel Your Feet On The Floor
Is the monkey chatter taking over and is it leading your thoughts in a hundred different directions? Stop the "what ifs" and stories your mind is making up by concentrating on the soles of your feet and the areas grounding your feet to the floor. Feel your toes, your heels, and all of the soft fleshy parts down the length of your foot and across its breadth. Now feel the weight of each spot in contact with the floor. This simple technique stops negative internal chatter in its tracks by bringing your mind back to the present moment.
Reframe Negative Thoughts
"I am extremely nervous" is not a phrase that will do you any service, in fact it will only make you more anxious. Nor will phrases such as, "Why did I sign up for this?" or "This idea is not going to go over well, and they'll think I'm stupid!" improve your situation. Our self-talk helps shape our outcomes and reframing our negative words with positive ones sets us up for success. Using phrases like, "I am excited to be speaking at this event" and "I have excellent information to share that will make a difference" will place you in the right frame of mind and untangle your jangled nerves.
Imagine Your Success
Full-blown anxiety usually begins to rear its ugly head a few days before your presentation. You'll wake up with your stomach doing a few flip-flops, and your nerves will start to take off. Rather than racing out of bed and reaching for your beta-blockers, instead take a moment to rest your head back on your pillow. Using your mind's eye, run through your entire presentation day, from hopping out of bed in the morning all the way up to receiving your exiting applause. Throw in a few imaginary bumps in the road too and "watch" how you handle scenarios like your cab not showing up or a mark on your newly dry-cleaned shirt. See yourself overcoming any unexpected hiccups with grace and ease. Visualization is a technique used by pro athletes to hit home runs or drive the golf ball into the hole and it works well to quell pre-presentation nerves, too.
One caveat -- none of these techniques will work if the first time you try them is five minutes before your presentation. The trick to achieving success with these anxiety-busters is practice -- lots of practice weeks and months before your next presentation. The key is to "feel" how these techniques make your body relax, and then, when you feel performance anxiety churning, use your muscle memory to bring back that same feeling of calm you created while practicing.
With these tips, public speaking can be rewarding instead of a fate worse than death.
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