First impressions matter. People make an assessment of you almost instantaneously. You want to pass this initial test and win your audience over. But how do you ensure you're ready right before you walk on stage?

By now, you've heard the value of warming up before a presentation and the importance of the first few moments that your audience experiences. Like a runner in a race, you need to optimize your first few seconds to gain a head start. But how do you get a jump on the competition before you speak?

Winning this race means winning new clients, new sales, new business and new opportunities. Want to cross the finish line in style? Get ready for your race from the get-go with these three tips.

On your mark: Breathe

While you wait in the wings, try taking a few deep breaths. Sounds simple, right? Most people don't realize the importance of breathing properly and the benefits.

Breathing properly oxygenates your blood. Why do you want your blood oxygenated? For these reasons:

  • Increases blood flow to the part of your brain designed to improve mental focus
  • Releases serotonin that improves mood
  • Balances out your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems

Breathing properly means breathing from your diaphragm. To do this, place your hand on your lower stomach. When you draw in air, pull it down into your navel and fill your lungs. Exhale through your nose, allowing your diaphragm to rise and push out all of the air.

Take a deep breath--you're on your mark.

Get set: Master adrenaline

It's no secret that giving a speech is stressful. The nerves you feel before facing a crowd are part of your body's "Fight or Flight" response. How can you combat your body's natural response to fear?

Nervous energy lives in your muscles. To truly excel, that energy needs to be released. Warming up is the way to get passed that tension. Roll your shoulders and shake out your arms and legs. Remember to keep properly breathing the whole time.

Once you have your body and mind centered via breathing and warming up, you're set.

Go: Make the stage your second home

Now that you're warmed up and properly oxygenated, it's time for the moment of truth. Remember: the audience makes a judgement within the first moment of seeing you--the first few seconds of a race makes or breaks a runner. This is when you should refer to the sage advice of Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy.

In her research, Cuddy discovered that by opening up their bodies and engaging in certain "power poses," participants drastically increased their confidence. Besides increasing confidence within those participants, these power poses allow that confidence to ooze out of the individual.

Roll your shoulders back, keep your head level and smile warmly at your audience as you stride to the center of your stage. That's right: your stage.

Preparation for a speech is crucial, but often overlooked, in the minutes before go-time. Make sure to set-up a pre-entrance routine to keep your nerves in check.On your mark. Get set. Go. Walk on stage with confidence and finish in the winner's circle.