How To's

Prepare To Speak!

Countdown To Your Next Relaxed Presentation

I’m often asked, “What’s the best way to handle my speaking nerves when I prepare to speak?”  I recommend creating a personal countdown to help you get ready emotionally, physically and mentally for the big event weeks or months in advance. Take the time to get clear about your purpose, audience and number one message.

When we feel uncomfortable, scared or angry, our bodies often tense up. Tension, particularly relating to stage fright, may manifest itself in the chest, shoulders, throat, jaw, head and stomach. For some people this can result in a kind of temporary paralysis. A bit like an animal caught in the headlights of a car. The animal freezes believing if it doesn’t move, you won’t see it or chase it. Humans can react the same way.

Tension can also result in a “blank mind” and a disconnect from yourself and your audience. And a lack of oxygen from breathing too short and fast from your upper chest may result in “heads spins”. The remedy I recommend to stop over thinking and over preparing is to switch to something physical to feel good and regain perspective. In other words, “Get out of your head and into your body”.

Next time you prepare to speak, try this Countdown:

Months Before:

Visualise yourself speaking with ease in front of your audience. Imagine taking your time, making eye contact and seeing the audience smiling, happy to be with you.

Weeks Before:

Do your research, prepare your words, practise reading/saying your words out loud slowly. Include time for pauses, audience interaction and entering and leaving the stage when you test time your speech.

Do yourself a favour and begin practicing daily relaxation techniques like the Inner Calm Exercise.

Days Before:

Continue to shift your old tension responses into your new relaxation responses with simple physical exercises. For instance: Raise your shoulders to your ears, hold, and release, letting your shoulders gently drop. Repeat twice more. Then hug yourself tightly, like you are holding yourself in with tension, and release, throwing your arms and chest open wide.  Clench your jaw in a grimace, hold and gently release. Lastly, gently roll your shoulders and release.

These exercises will open your chest, face, jaw, airways, shoulders and tummy, releasing tension and awakening intention. Daydream. Dance. Walk, Read. Physical activity will help you stop thinking about your presentation and regain perspective and break obsessive thoughts and tension.

Ask yourself: Will I really remember this presentation in 5 years? And for that matter, will anyone else?

Hours Before:

Take a deep, even breath from the base of your stomach and release slowly through pursed lips. Feel your feet on the floor. Gently roll your shoulders back. This opens your chest, drops your shoulders, widens your stance, opens your face and throat to magically give you a confident posture.

Hours After:

Rather than go straight back into your head and critically deconstruct every mistake you think you made – just don’t go there. Instead, reground yourself so that you continue to be fully present with others – answer questions, accept invitations, network and so on. Purposely speak, breath and move more slowly for a while. If you can walk around, preferably in nature, you will quickly disperse stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and invite the relaxation response to settle your mind, body and emotions.

Days After:

Make sure you’ve been for a walk, watched a movie or done something that helps you relax. Your aim is to switch your brain off and reboot your system. When you resurface, evaluate kindly and constructively:

  • How effectively did you handle nervous tension this time?
  • When were your listeners most engaged with you?
  • How might you do the same presentation again?
  • Would any offered feedback help you improve?
  • The next time, how will you prepare to speak?

When you give yourself enough time to prepare to speak, you’ll handle speaking nerves so much better. You’ll also be able to deliver your message more effectively to help listeners understand how you can help them. And surely, that is one of the main reasons you are speaking in the first place?

© 2011-24, Geraldine Barkworth, speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.