For some of you, being well-prepared and getting a good night's sleep are the keys to a successful presentation. For the rest of us, nerves take over regardless, and we step up to the podium with heart racing, palms sweating, and voice quivering.
In our search for ways to alleviate public-speaking fears, we checked in with speakers and speech consultants to get tips on relaxation techniques you can practice -- in the minutes, or even weeks -- before you take the stage. Here is their advice.
Visualize yourself at your best. Star sports figures and Olympic athletes are coached to think of themselves in a peak performance state. Days or weeks before your presentation visualize yourself at your best, positively getting through the speaking engagement. Imagine yourself as resilient, see yourself as flexible, adaptable, and handling the presentation effectively even if things don't go as planned. Don't expect perfection, but do imagine yourself at your personal best. When you step up to the stage, take a moment to breathe, and create a safe place for yourself. Imagine a circle around you filled with white light and positive energy. Imagine radiating that positive energy.
Repeat positive affirmations. When walking up to the stage, go slowly, breathe, and say positive affirmations to yourself. Use words that are calming or empowering like "easy and effortless," "I trust myself," and "calm and relaxed."
Create a warm and friendly environment. Make connections with the audience through eye contact. If you can send out warm, inviting energy, most people will respond in a positive way. Remember the audience is there for you and they want you to succeed.
Take a personal inventory. This is a stream-of-consciousness monologue that you do semi-audibly so that you can hear your own words but no one else can. The exercise trains you to stay in touch with your moment-to-moment feelings and alleviates tension. You start by asking yourself, "How do I feel?" and then answering yourself. Keep repeating the question and answering it. Do it for as briefly as two minutes or for as long as you comfortably can. While you do this exercise, things outside yourself will interrupt your monologue and distract you. Allow these distractions and include them in the monologue. For example, "How do I feel? I just cleared my throat, getting ready for this exercise. I feel obligated to do it. I'm taking a deep breath. How do I feel? My eyes are scanning the room; they feel scratchy, not enough sleep last night. How do I feel? I feel anxious, a bit tense in the chest and forehead. Maybe the shoulders, too. Yeah, tense in the shoulders. I hear a fly buzzing in the window, wonder how it got in there? How do I feel? I feel stuck. I don't know how I feel right now. Taking another deep breath. I feel my stomach is bloated, should lose some weight. Now I feel more in touch with how I feel. The excitement is coming up again. How do I feel?" etc.
Practice deep breathing. Start by inhaling slowly through your nose -- and as you inhale your stomach should expand outward. As you exhale through your mouth, your stomach flattens out. Start to breathe this way while you're waiting to speak -- that time is crucial to most speakers. Practice it standing up. Take a nice, deep, diaphragmatic inhale. When you begin to exhale, you start to talk -- out loud, or to yourself -- "one by one" "two by two" "three by three."
Try virtual reality therapy. You put on a special headset that projects what you see standing in front of a virtual auditorium. The auditorium gradually fills with virtual people. You hear the crowd noise -- including laughter and applause -- during your speech. You practice diaphragmatic breathing, checking in with yourself, listening to what you are saying to yourself, and how you handle interruptions. Virtual reality isn't in wide use but it's one of several tools that The Speech Improvement Company may use, depending on the individual and degree of fear of speaking.