Top tips to keep calm before a presentation

In your role as a SBM you may find yourself having to present to an audience at some point. Here Graham Shaw, author of The Speaker’s Coach, provides some advice on keeping calm before a presentation

When we are anxious we are often worrying about what has – or might – happen. Our attention is not present and, as our stress hormone, cortisol, increases, we are inhibited from performing well. It can really help your performance if you stay fully present. When you are anxious and not fully present:

  • you cannot think clearly;
  • it can lead to nausea, headaches and more;
  • you tend to adopt behaviours which show that you are nervous;
  • the audience has less confidence in you;
  • you may go into flight or fight mode, or freeze like a ‘rabbit in the headlights’;
  • you may become fearful, which impairs good performance.

However, there are some easy things you can do to keep yourself calm before a presentation.
1. Reframe anxious experiences into a positive
When we give negative meanings to things that happen it makes us feel anxious. However, we can choose to positively reframethose experiences. All we need to do is ask ourselves, ‘What else could it mean?’.
For example, having made a mistake at the start of a talk, your instinctive reaction might be. ‘I’ve made a mistake, so this is going to be awful’. By taking a moment to positively reframe the experience, you might more helpfully think, ‘That’s an early sign to keep me on my toes’.
2. Breathe deeply to re-centre yourself
Guidance based on the work of Wendy Palmer and Janet Crawford in Leadership Embodiment suggests we should breathe in deeply – as if breathing upwards – then breathe out in a long breath as if exhaling down the front of our body, maintaining an upright stance throughout. Imagine you have soft shoulders, and relax them. After several breaths you can feel a difference as your attention is brought back to the present moment.
3. Place a positive label on the ‘negative’ feeling
Feelings that we, typically, label positive or negative are often similar feelings; nervous often feels like excited, for example. A quick way to overcome nerves is to change the label we give them. Instead of saying ‘I feel nervous’ or ‘I’ve got butterflies’, we could, instead, say ‘I feel a sense of anticipation’ or ‘That’s excitement’.
Remember to change the label you give to a negative feeling in order to switch your reaction into a positive one.

The Speaker’s Coach: 60 secrets to make your talk, speech or presentation amazing, by Graham Shaw, is available on Amazon.
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