5 Ways To Keep Your Cool During A Big Presentation
Last week, we wrote about how professionals are dealing with their fear of public speaking by taking beta blockers, a kind of drug that slows down the body's response to stress and helps people move forward without sweaty palms and shallow breathing.
But while the drugs can be helpful to some people, others prefer to cure their performance anxiety without them.
We spoke with Dr. Nick Morgan, a communications coach who has worked with Fortune 50 executives and TED speakers, about what people can do to make sure their nerves don't destroy their next big presentation.
1. Redefine your negative symptoms as positive.
One of the biggest reasons people struggle with stage fright is the anxiety that sets in after feeling their body go into its fight or flight response.
But instead of thinking of a quickened heartbeat, flushed cheeks, and aroused awareness as harbingers of doom, Dr. Morgan trains his pupils to perceive them as symptoms that will lead to a positive experience. As he was fond of telling students when he taught at Princeton University, our body's response before a big performance is the same as its response before sex.
"When you think the arousal is going to lead to a pleasant circumstance, the arousal isn’t so bad," he said.
2. Give yourself a pep talk.
Dr. Morgan says it's natural for your mind to start thinking of all the things that can go wrong during a high-pressure situation. But with practice, people can train themselves to combat every negative thought with a reassuring one.
For instance, when you step onstage and feel yourself worrying that your voice will quiver, you can think of all the time you have spent preparing for a positive outcome.
3. Visualize your success.
Just as Olympic athletes prepare themselves by imagining how their gold-medal winning performance will look, so too should you imagine giving a talk that wins over a crowd or impresses your boss.
Dr. Morgan says that by creating these "mini movies" in your head, you can distract your body from making you nervous.
"By creating those little positive scenarios and then playing them over and over again in your head, you replace your nervousness with positive activity," he says.
4. Practice filling up your belly balloon.
As any yoga enthusiast knows, breathing is one of most important keys to staying calm. Dr. Morgan recommends diaphragmatic breathing — also known as belly breathing — through which people breathe deeply by contracting their diaphragms.
This triggers the body's autonomic relaxation response and can lead to better performance. However, Dr. Morgan says it's important to practice belly breathing before your big moment because it won't work if you're already nervous.
5. Stay positive.
Finally, Dr. Morgan recommends taking a page out of the method actor's playbook and focusing intensely on a positive emotion prior to giving your speech or presentation.
You can prepare yourself by thinking about how excited you are to speak to the audience you're addressing, or how passionate you are about the subject of your presentation.
And as a last resort, you can always see a doctor about whether anxiety medication could be of use.
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