I confess. I love talking to groups. No matter the size, I find the interactions and relationships to be both stimulating and fulfilling. But I know that is not how most people feel about speaking to groups. Most people, or so I’m told, are terrified of public speaking. I’ve read where people say they’d rather be burned alive than stand in front of a group and deliver a presentation. The anxiety and nervousness just freaks a lot of people right out.
Well, here’s a formula to help you to learn to control the nervous energy and use it to your advantage. I call it “Breathing, Fingers, Toes, and Shows.”
Breathing - Stressful breathing is high up in the chest and shallow. Fear drives breathing higher up in the chest, leading to gasping, sputtering, and oxygen deprivation! This high and fast breathing puts pressure on your voice box, and reverberates through your body, out to your hands (shaking) and knees (shaky) and stomach (upset) and voice (strained.)
Low and slow breathing is the breathing of relaxation. To get control of your anxiety or nerves, start by breathing low and slow. Low breathing grounds you and connects you to yourself. Do this before beginning a presentation, and you will find that as you gain some breathing control, you get some control over your hands, your feet, and your voice at the same time.
Fingers, Toes - When you walk out in front of people for the first time, press your first finger and thumb together as hard as you can. The pressure that this creates will draw your attention away from your nerves. Once you stop walking and arrive at the center of the staging area, press your toes into the ground. Do both your fingers and your toes together, or alternate, while looking slowly around the room. Add low and slow breathing, and you can calm yourself way down.
Show Gestures - Johnny Carson, before walking out on stage, swung an invisible golf club. I know someone who pumps his fist in the air three times before speaking. Someone else I know spreads their hands apart and then claps them, softly. These gestures can be powerful reminders to speak clearly and effectively. It’s called stimulus-response, and you can strengthen it through intensity and repetition. You can even practice it in the imaginary future! Imagine yourself doing this pattern just before your presentation, and having the experience of calm, confidence and coherence that you desire.
Whenever you feel anxiety, there’s no need to fight it. Accept it, and let yourself work with it rather than against it. Breathe low and slow, press fingers and toes, use a symbolic gesture for show, to calm yourself down and regain your ability to focus and communicate. Funny thing is, after you’ve built up a bit of experience with this, it all falls away and what is left is the pure pleasure of connection, authentic communication and the comfort and excitement of sharing yourself and making a difference.
Back on Friday. Meantime, your comments and feedback are always welcome and appreciated.