The sad thing is, if not addressed, those nerves can get the best of us and impact our speech. You may realize it is harder to breathe, your voice starts to waiver, and you may even start to stumble over your words. Without clear and confident speaking, it's impossible to properly deliver your thoughts, feelings, and even data in an impactful way.
The good thing is, with a few easy tricks it is possible to take control of your nerves so you can get out of your own way and let your work shine.
Deep Breathing Exercises
While not often realized, the breath is behind everything we do. We are able to make sound because our bodies push air through the folds of our vocal chords. Breath is the most essential element of strong and powerful speaking. However, when we get nervous and our body goes into fight of flight, our breathing gets shallow. The shallower our breath, the harder it is to create strong, supported speech.
To combat this, doing deep breathing exercises in the hour, minutes, or even seconds before your presentation will help ground your breath and, in turn, your nerves. When you take slow, intentional, deep breaths, it is a cue to our nervous system to slow down and helps the body come out of fight or flight mode.
For simple but effective deep breathing, do the following:
- Sit or stand where you can firmly feel both feet planted to the ground. If you are wearing heels and have the time, take them off and stand barefoot.
- Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so or leave them open and have a soft, unfocused gaze.
- Breathe in through your nose and slowly count to three.
- At the top of your breath, hold your breath in for three counts.
- Slowly release your breath out of your nose or mouth (your choice), trying to extend your exhale for as long as possible.
Repeat steps 3 - 5 as many times as you feel you need, but you should start to feel the effects almost immediately.
Bonus: Visualize yourself presenting your material with energy and confidence while breathing.
Positive Self Talk
More often than not, negative thoughts and assumptions about ourselves and our capabilities are the source of our nerves. We think about past presentations that haven't gone well or we assume that there is no way we can do well because we are giving our presentation after the guy on the team who is super outgoing and charismatic and always nails is presentations. All of those thoughts have no business being in your head. Not only are you capable, but every single person, including you, has the ability to become that charismatic guy. And the place to start is utilizing positive self talk.
Self talk is your inner monologue. Its how you speak to yourself in your head. When we speak negatively about ourselves to ourselves, it has a profound affect on how we see ourselves and our confidence. And the crazy part is that when we are talking negatively to ourselves, we are LYING to ourselves. You wouldn't accept a friend or family member lying to you, right? So why do you accept it from yourself?
Take back control and focus on positive self talk, especially surrounding your upcoming presentation. Start doing this for as long as possible before the big day. At the very least, start two days prior to give your mind multiple repetitions before the presentation. While you are welcome to use any positive thought or affirmation that sits with you, here are some suggestions:
I am a great public speaker
I know exactly what I am going to say
I know my content
I am strong
I am confident
I am eloquent
I am going to nail this presentation
Everybody is interested in what I have to say
I am worthy of praise and success
Find a personalized mix of words and phrases that work best for you and take 2 minutes twice a day to go through them. You can keep them in your head or even write them down and read them to make sure you remember them. They are equally as effective if you say them in your head or say them out loud. The most important thing is to make sure you go through these right before you give your presentation as well. The affirmations will help open you up and put you in the right mindset to do your best and get rid of your nerves.
Shake Out the Nerves
Now, this is the silliest of all the tricks but equally as effective. When we are nervous and our bodies have entered into fight or flight, our adrenaline starts pumping to help protect ourselves from danger, but chances are you won't need to out run a bear in an office setting. Since there is no bear and therefore no way to expel the added energy jolt the adrenaline gives, its just vibrating inside of us, making us feel jittery, shaky, and mentally unfocused. By getting rid of this extra energy, we free ourselves up to calm down our nervous system and become more grounded and connected to our body.
Now, almost any sort of movement can work - jumping around in the break room to your favorite hype song, doing burpees in your office - but the following exercise is quick and easy and may soon become your favorite.
- Find a secluded, private place (optional - some people prefer to be more private about things and others don't - do whatever works best for you)
- Raise your right arm above your head and shake it 8 times, counting out loud
- Raise your left arm above your head and shake it 8 times, counting out loud
- Raise your right leg off the ground and shake it 8 times, counting out loud
- Raise your left leg off the ground and shake it 8 times, counting out loud
Repeat steps 2 through 5, each time lessening the amount of times you shake with each repetition to 4 times, and then 2 times, and 1 time 2 times through. For clarity, the order is as follows:
This exercise should be done quickly and with energy! Let lose and have fun!
Having nerves before performing or speaking in front of a crowd or even a small room of people we respect is normal and natural. Even professional actors continue to get nervous throughout their performance careers. But the big difference is that they have been able to manage their nerves and lessen them through practice and tricks like the ones above. As with anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. The more you get up and speak in front of others, the easier it will become and the less naturally nervous you will be. But until the time comes where you feel like you don't need help anymore, employ these trusty tricks to calm your nerves and so you can be your best self on presentation day.