Got 5 Minutes? – How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking

“Easy does it.”

“Take it easy.”

“Easy as pie.”

In America, we admire people who not only do things expertly, but who make them seem easy.

I believe one of the reasons we feel this way, is that when things are going smoothly — when we’re hitting on all cylinders — we’re functioning at peak efficiency. That just feels right. And to an audience, it looks and sounds right.

Some people call this level of performance “flow,” or nowadays, being in The Zone. Whatever name you attach it to it, it’s a feeling of effortlessness-an intense pleasure that comes from focusing completely on a task rather than the obstacles in one’s way.

The first rule of successful presentations is to bring oneself to such a state of natural relaxation. Once we do that, we can place our focus where it needs to be. And that’s on our message and our listeners, rather than on the things that make us self-conscious and anxious.

But given today’s hectic professional and personal schedules, we also need a way to help us relax quickly. So here’s a wonderful way to achieve a productive level of relaxation (not an oxymoron!) if you only have 5 minutes to spare:

1. Find a quiet and solitary place.

(Your room at a conference hotel, a toilet stall, or even your car parked outside your speaking venue will do.) Sit comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor.

2. Close your eyes.

3. “Listen” to your breath for the first minute.

That is, pay attention to what happens when you breathe in slowly and calmly. Experience these sensations with your body, not your mind; recognize how breathing nourishes and sustains you. Feel the breath flow down your throat, fill your lungs, and then bring life-giving oxygen to every cell in your body.

4. Now, focus your awareness on
a visual image you “see” in your mind.

Make it a neutral color and shape: a green circle, a yellow square, a blue triangle. Any object that doesn’t have emotional overtones for you is fine. (Avoid red as a color.)

5. See that object in as close to
crystal clarity as you can manage.

This will take concentration and a bit of practice at first. As you do, adopt a passive attitude toward any other mental activity. Thoughts, imagery, and feelings will emerge in your consciousness. Simply notice them then let them go on their way. Keep a gentle yet firm focus on your image. Do nothing; just let your awareness be.

6. Your breathing will become slower and deeper.

This is what you are aiming for. You’re now in a calmer and more relaxed state. When you’re ready, open your eyes and slowly stand. If you feel any lightheadedness, sit down again, for your body may not be used to taking in this level of oxygen. Once you have it, try to maintain this level of calmness and relaxed breathing as you go about your daily tasks. Without question, bring it into your speaking situation.

This simple, brief exercise allows you to calm yourself and focus your attention-two critical attributes of a good speech or presentation. Practice it until you can do it easily at a moment’s notice (as in, “Would you say a few words?”), because that’s when you will need it most!

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(This article originally appeared in Dr. Gary Genard’s book HOW TO GIVE A SPEECH, available at http://www.publicspeakinginternational.com/how-to-give-a-speech.html.)

GARY GENARD is an internationally known speech coach and corporate trainer. A former professional actor, he is the founder of Boston-based Public Speaking International, one of the world’s premiere presentation skills and media training companies. PSI offers communication skills improvement including public speaking training, executive speech coaching, speech improvement training, presentation skills and using PowerPoint, sales presentation training, and media appearance training. Public Speaking International can be found online at http://PublicSpeakingInternational.com

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