(This is a guest post by Stanford University professor Matt Abrahams, author of Speaking Up Without Freaking Out)
Speaking in front of others can be terrifying. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked, “At a funeral, people would rather be in the casket than deliver the eulogy.” The fear of presenting in front of others is real and can limit your career growth.
With practice anxious speakers can become more confident and compelling. The goal is not to overcome your fear, but to manage it. Managed speaking anxiety is beneficial in several ways: It encourages you to prepare, helps you focus, provides you with energy, and expresses authenticity.
In what follows, I present five anxiety management techniques that you can employ in the five minutes prior to your presentation. To help you remember these techniques, I have ordered them using the acronym B.R.A.V.E.
Tip 1: Breathe
Take time to breathe slowly and deeply. “Belly breathing,” filling your lower abdomen by inhaling slowly, calms nerves by reducing your heart rate. Try out 7-7-7 breathing where you breathe in for seven seconds through your nose, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale for seven seconds through your mouth. By focusing on counting, you quiet your mental chatter. Also, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth keeps your vocal chords moist.
Tip 2: Recite your core message
Many people fear that they will forget their material in the middle of their speech. To bolster your confidence, repeat your central message several times just before you speak. You should be able to express your central message in a punchy sentence of three to twelve words. If you do lose your train of thought, restating your central point should help you get back on track; plus your audience will appreciate the reminder.
Tip 3: Acknowledge your jitters
The physical, emotional, and mental reactions you experience prior to speaking are natural. Avoid giving these responses special significance. In fact, you can greet these reactions by saying: “Here are those natural feelings of anxiety again. They give me the energy I need to share my message.” This empowering acknowledgment will soothe your anxiety.
Tip 4: Vocally warm up
Anxiety wreaks havoc on your voice by tightening your muscles, including your vocal chords and your diaphragm. Relax by vocally warming. Just as an athlete would not begin without stretching, you should not begin speaking without preparing your voice. Start by drinking warm water or decaffeinated tea. Next, say your core message aloud. Finally, repeat tongue twisters such as “I slit a sheet. A sheet I slit. And, on that slitted sheet, I sit.” Just like counting your breath, such vocal warm-ups get you out of your head.
Tip 5: Expect success
Speakers often worry more about making mistakes in their delivery than they do about the impact their speech will have on their audience. When have an idea worth spreading, you will feel empowered and relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to give a good presentation. You are using self-fulfilling prophecy to obtain a positive outcome.
Try it out!
By being B.R.A.V.E. in the five minutes before you take the stage, you will manage your speaking anxiety and in the process feel confident, calm, and competent in speaking up without freaking out!
Matt Abrahams is a passionate, collaborative and innovative educator and coach who teaches Strategic Communication and Presentation Skills at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and De Anza College. He is also co-founder of Bold Echo Communication Solutions, an industry- leading communication consulting practice. Matt recently published Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, a book written to help the millions of people who suffer from presentation anxiety. To learn more, visit BoldEcho.com or NoFreakingSpeaking.com.