Those were some responses I got when I asked colleagues, “How do you feel when you must make a presentation?”
In anticipation of any major athletic event--from assuming a crouch position in the starting blocks, to walking up to the lectern for a major presentation--there is a physiological response your body experiences: an adrenalin rush. That adrenalin rush is a natural hormone released in response to stress that increases your heart rate, pulse rate, and blood pressure. With an out-of-control heart and pulse rate, your brain is likely to go brain dead. For the speaker, the key is to not eliminate this response, but to learn strategies to make that natural energy work for you.
Let’s look at some common physical reactions to speech-making and some suggestions for turning anxiety into manageable excitement.
- Cotton Mouth: When you combine fear with a lot of talking and nervous smiling, the end result is a dry mouth.
- Have a pitcher or glass of room-temperature water at the lectern.
- Use lozenges to keep your mouth moist. (Ricola® Natural Herb Cough Drops, for example.)
- To produce saliva, bite the side of your tongue or massage the roof of your mouth.
- Stay away from coffee and tea.
- Sweating: Have you seen Broadcast News? As the neophyte broadcaster does the weekend edition for the first time, sweat pours down his face in a veritable river making his credibility as soggy as his shirt. Some of us fear the clammy handshake; others fear the droplets from the brow; others fear the pit stains under the arms. The 25-cent word for the condition is: Hyperhidrosis. The rise in temperature can cause sweating and adrenalin can trigger sweating as the natural way for a body to cool down.
- Use a solid antiperspirant (not just deodorant) that is labeled "clinical strength." Apply antiperspirant once in the morning and once before going to bed. Massage it into your skin.
- If sweating is a problem for you, a flimsy Kleenex will not do the trick. Use a large, cloth handkerchief that has absorbency.
- For men and women, think layers. Wear a breathable undershirt or, for women, even dress shields can be a solution.
- Consider the fabric of your clothing. Simple rule: cotton will absorb. The loose weave of a linen will absorb. Polyester may trap heat, causing you to sweat more. Avoid grays, blues, and bright colors — you'll be afraid to raise your arms—and for good reason.
- Freezing: Think about being “scared stiff.” Your muscles are rigid, your knuckles are white, and your face is set in stone. You are the picture of terror. As difficult as it is to do, you can only combat the “frozen” look by forcing yourself to move.
- Unlock your grasp of the lectern and try purposeful, descriptive gestures. Connect with the story of your content and show (using your own personal sign language) the audience what you mean. These gestures can truly bring your story to life.
- Move away from the lectern as you make a key point.
- Strive for a heightened conversational vocal style and connection. Feel passion for your message and let it come out.
- Connect with your audience through eye interaction. Reframe the experience from "the masses" (pretty scary) to a conversation—simply a series of one-on-ones. That adrenalin becomes focused energy.
- Balance: Giving a superior speech also requires good physical balance.
- For women, high-heels or cramped feet will knock you off-kilter (physically and mentally), so wear comfortable, low- heeled shoes.
- Regardless of gender, your stance should be hip-width apart for stability.
- High Pitch: Generally, the faster you speak, the higher your pitch. A high pitched voice is very distracting.
- Try speaking more slowly.
- Pause between sentences and key points.
- Tape record your speeches and listen to yourself.
- Lower your pitch by sitting in a chair and placing a book on the floor in front of you. Lean over limply. Read aloud to the floor and notice the resonance in your chest. Sit up and consciously recreate that relaxed lower tone.
- Breathing and relaxation exercises are key to lowering your pitch.
- Hoarseness: Strained, loud talking and nervous tension can create hoarseness. The throat tightens and consequently, strains the vocal cords.
- Be aware of your body. Relax your throat.
- My favorite resource for breathing exercises is Dr. Andrew Weil: http://www.drweil.com/
Dr. Andrew Weil
- Depend on your diaphragm for volume. Project your voice rather than shout.
- If hoarseness persists, see an ear, nose and throat specialist to rule out a medical cause; then see a speech therapist for exercises to develop proper use of your voice.
- Nausea: Nausea may develop as a result of adrenalin and other attack response chemicals pumping wildly through your body.
- If you do feel sick, taking slow, deep exhalation breaths will help.
- The Pre-Presentation Plan: exercise! Instead of having the adrenalin rush, create the adrenalin flush. Through exercise, much of the free-floating anxiety disappears. It tires your muscles and endorphins are released. It simply wipes out some of that massive adrenalin.
- Nutrition affects nausea. Guaranteed: neither an empty stomach or heavy, fattening, unhealthy meals are your friends.
- Tums may become your friend. Tums, peppermint, or Pepto-Bismol can reduce that temporary nausea you experience.
- Water, water, water: Dehydration leads to greater anxiety. Keep your body hydrated.
- Breathing: One more time this strategy is an elixir to turning anxiety and adrenalin to positive energy.
- Brain Death: This is a nightmare when it happens. Often we go blank because we memorize a talk and try to recall it word-for-word.
- To minimize the chances of brain death, use notes.
- Visualize stories so that words flow easily.
- When you’re in front of the room, pause, take a drink of water and allow your visual memory to bring back the image you had in mind through rehearsal.
Other Tips For Turning Anxiety into Positive Energy
In the book Speaking Up, Janet Stone and Jane Bachner suggest that the best way to reduce speech anxiety is through preparation (75%). Other ways include breathing exercises (15%) and physical and mental preparation (10%).
- Rehearsal: Advance preparation is the key to developing a sense of confidence. When you are well rehearsed, you know what to expect. You can connect with your audience since the content is secure in your mind. Know and choreograph the opening of your speech so that you can come on strong.
- Breathing: Breathing exercises signal your body to relax. Just as you practice delivering the content of your talk, also practice relaxation breathing. Get comfortable. Focus on an object. Take a few deep breaths. Feel your body respond. Know that you can draw on that same relaxed feeling during a talk.
- Physical and Mental Exercises: Try a few neck rolls. Alternate facial tensing with big, wide-mouth stretches. Also, tense and relax your whole body. Shake your legs, arms and fingers to get rid of that excess tension. Appreciate your preparation and knowledge of the topic. See in your mind the delivery of a successful speech—and then go do it.
Remember every speaker is affected by the perils of adrenalin but there are many options open to you. To turn nervous energy into focused excitement, take the time for rehearsal, relaxation breathing, and physical exercises. It’s with that sense of control and preparedness you can turn the queasy stomach and frozen body into positive energy. That excitement can work for you!
Let us know what strategy you use to manage anxiety.
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