How to banish public speaking fears
The webinar host has one more person to introduce and then it’s time for you to start your presentation to the virtual crowd. How do you feel?
Would you be cool, calm and more collected than Star Wars memorabilia? Or would you be a hot mess with sweaty palms, a dry mouth and the sound of your own heartbeat hammering in your ears?
For presenters, performing at peak efficiency – being in ‘the zone’ – relies on entering a calm state and maintaining it throughout the presentation. But for many of us who feel self-conscious or nervous when faced with a virtual meeting, Facebook live session, podcast, interview, speech or presentation, ‘the zone’ can feel light years away.
Here are a few techniques you can use to reach “a productive level of relaxation” ahead of your next public speaking challenge.
This simple five-minute exercise will help you focus your attention and achieve a state of calm (two critical skills of a professional presenter). Practice it regularly until you can enter this calm state at a moment’s notice.
Find a quiet, solitary space. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and close your eye.
Pay attention to your breath for a minute, noticing what happens when you breathe slowly and calmly. Leave your mind and focus on the physical sensations in your body, noticing your throat and lungs bringing life-giving oxygen into every cell in your body.
– Now, picture a neutral shape in your mind – a green circle, a yellow square, a blue triangle – and centre your attention on the image.
– Imagine the object in as close to crystal clarity as you can while adopting a passive attitude to any other mental activity.
– As thoughts emerge in your consciousness, notice them, then let them pass by. Stay focused on your shape. Do nothing; just let your awareness be.
– Your breathing will gradually become slower and deeper, which is what this exercise is all about. After five minutes, open your eyes and stand up slowly.
– Maintain your relaxed breathing and the keep the calm state you have reached as you perform
Before you start speaking, take a deep breath in, centre yourself and smile. These simple steps will slow your heart rate, lower your stress level and make you feel calmer.
People tend to talk faster when they are nervous or excited. Be measured and say your first sentence slowly, remembering that it’s easier to speed up than slow down when presenting. A relaxed pace will calm you down and make it easier for your audience to grasp what you are saying.
Pause for thought
Pausing allows you to breathe, helping you control your adrenaline level and keep your cool. It also gives your audience a chance to process what you are saying and can be a useful tool for creating a little tension, for example before sharing a surprising statistic.
Add a pause after making an important point so your audience can absorb the information and you can enjoy a brief snippet of calm.
Firstly, give yourself energy and confidence by believing that the audience is your friend. Secondly, believe in the value of what you are talking about and your voice and gestures will naturally project authenticity.
Instead of worrying how a presentation may turn out, stay in the moment. Keep your mind focused on the present by imagining the scene as stepping-stones in your mind’s eye. Plan your talk to include personal stories and humour that will dissipate any tension. Then practice it, along with the smile and the breathing, to grow your confidence.
Rule your own calm kingdom
Finding your calm is just one ingredient in the professional presentation skills pie. You can find it, know it is there for you.
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