If you're like most people, you feel a spike in pre-speech jitters in the last 60 seconds before you take the stage to deliver a presentation or when it's approaching your turn to speak up in a meeting.
Fortunately, there are specific steps you can take to calm down and build confidence. I walk through these steps myself in about 60 seconds just before I take the stage.
1. Take 5 deep breaths.
Let's start by examining what's happening in your brain when you do any type of public speaking. Our brains are pretty clever. They evolved with systems to quickly detect threats in our environment. Often referred to as our "reptilian" brain, these systems go into action even before the more evolved part of our brains--the prefrontal cortex--can make a logical assessment of the threat.
That means stress hormones are being pumped through your bloodstream to prepare for fight or flight. While the reptilian response served our cave-dwelling ancestors, it doesn't help us much today when we face an audience. It's not a life or death situation, but our brain doesn't know it. Your heart race speeds up, your palms sweat, and your breathing becomes shorter and quicker.
The fix? Slow down your breathing on purpose. Take five deep, slow breaths. Breathe in from your nose and fill your entire chest. Then, slowly exhale through your mouth. Do it again. And again. The process sends a signal to your brain that your audience is not a threat. It tells your brain that your presentation is something to enjoy, not fear.
2. Memorize your opener.
People tend to remember the first thing you say and the last thing. Your audience will form an impression about you in seconds, and their first impression is likely to last through your entire presentation.
Start out strong right out of the gate.
Last week, I gave a keynote speech to a group of high-tech leaders. I had gone over my opening lines so often that I still remember it word for word:
Good morning. It was nice to meet so many of you at last night's reception. It reminded me that you're in leadership for a reason. You always strive to get better, to learn something new. And that's why I'm here this morning. In the next 45 minutes, I'm going to talk about the one skill you can build today to give yourself a competitive edge--storytelling to persuade.
Too many speakers fumble around at the beginning of their presentation because they're not sure where to start. Rehearsing your opening lines will build your confidence and ensure that you make a positive first impression.
3. Smile broadly.
This last step is one I have to remind myself to do. It's so important--and easy to forget--that I often draw a smiley face on my notes.
A smile is the fastest, easiest way to make a favorable impression. Yet, most speakers forget to smile for a simple reason--they're consumed with thinking about to say next. That's why I recommend practicing your presentation ahead of time at least ten times from start to finish. And in the final few seconds before you speak, remind yourself to put a big, broad smile on your face. If you don't look like you're enjoying the presentation, your audience won't enjoy it, either.
Public speaking is not an option; it's fundamental to your success as an entrepreneur, leader, or business professional. Set yourself up for success by taking these three simple steps seconds before you speak.