You're nervous. Shoot, you're scared. In just a few minutes you will deliver a critical presentation, pitch a key investor, lead an emergency meeting, try to close a sale to an enabling customer... It feels like everything is on the line.
Will you do your best? Probably not.
"Everyone is basically selling all the time so there are always other options available," says Cheryl Dolan, Executive Coach, speaker, and speech/language pathologist. "If you don't show up with confidence and power, people quickly go on to the next person."
So how can you step into what Dolan calls "your real, powerful presence" and confidently exhibit the qualities that make you different from everyone else?
It's all about self-regulation: priming your nervous system for peak performance. By organizing your nervous system so you feel you're in alignment with who you are and what you stand for, you come across incredibly well--and you let people see who you really are.
Luckily, gearing up is surprisingly easy and even fun.
When you feel nervous or intimidated, here are five ways to be prepare yourself to feel more confident, act more assured, and just be more you:
1. Bring a photo of your significant other or close friend.
A minute or two spent looking at the photo before you are "on" can reset your nervous system. You'll then feel more relaxed and confident because you'll feel more grounded and at home, even in an uncomfortable or unusual setting.
2. Play with a squeeze ball.
The process of squeezing and tensing muscles and then letting go--even if just using fine motor movements--drops your heart rate and makes you less nervous. You can also play with beads or roll stones in your hand; that's why playing with a pen helps many people focus.
The effect is based on proprioperception, the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation (and a word really hard to say three times quickly.) "You can eliminate fear by 'knowing where you are,'" Dolan says.
Playing with a squeeze ball is perfect for phone calls or webinars. In person, make sure whatever you use to ground yourself isn't distracting to others.
3. Sit on a very large yoga ball and bounce away.
While any amount of bouncing is good, Dolan recommends 15 minutes. "It's really fun, it makes you laugh, and it causes changes to the chemicals in your brain," she says. "You can't release cortisol and adrenaline when you're having fun. You release endorphins instead. That eliminates the fight or flight response and makes you feel more relaxed and confident. The effect can often last for a couple hours."
Sound crazy? Here's some of the underlying science:
- Bouncing promotes vestibuluar integration. The vestibular system provides the body with information about space, balance, movement, and triggers balance receptors. Vestibular input acts to "prime" your nervous system to function effectively.
- Bouncing stimulates proprioperception, increasing alertness and decreasing anxiety and making you feel more safe and secure.
- Bouncing stimulates the speech and language centers of your brain, making you speak more easily and fluently when you're done.
- Bouncing stimulates the reticular activating system, a neural mechanism that produces alertness and focused attention.
Told you it works.
Mental rehearsal is a tool used by successful athletes, performers, astronauts--pretty much everyone.
"Before you walk in the room, visualize a time when you did something and really nailed it, even if what you did doesn't apply to the current situation," Dolan says. "That will cause your brain to secrete serotonin and oxytocin, two chemicals that boost confidence, enthusiasm, and motivation."
You'll be thinking about what you're about to do anyway, so why not visualize exactly how you want it to go and how you'll feel afterward?
Worrying about failure won't help, but visualizing success can.
5. Breathe deep.
Deep abdominal breathing cuts adrenaline and is the scientific basis for the old saw, "Take a deep breath." Adrenaline can trigger fight or flight and also shuts down your frontal cortex, which causes you to be less rational and reasonable.
Two minutes of deep breathing--picture expanding your chest and your stomach, or what Dolan calls belly button deep breathing--will make you a lot less nervous.
Try one. Try two. If what you're about to do is incredibly important--and you're incredibly nervous--try them all.
The impact on your performance will be worth it.