There’s a lot you can do to minimize the anxiety that comes with speaking in public. (See “Would You Rather Die Than Speak in Public? Minimize the Nerves.”) But even after all your preparation, there may still be that dreaded moment right before or, worst, during your talk when the anxiety attacks you in the worst way. The butterflies turn into barracudas, and between a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, shaking muscles, quivering vocals, and a mind that goes totally blank, you despair of ever recovering your cool. But it can be done. I have identified two categories of remedies for mastering the anxiety when you’re actually experiencing it:
- Move! Make big purposeful gestures, project strong vocals, stride across the front of the room. You have to release that nervous energy, otherwise it’ll eat a hole in your stomach.
- Breathe. Think about all the nervous symptoms I just mentioned. Every one of them is a direct result of lack of oxygen. When we’re nervous, most of us breathe too shallowly. But the one thing our body craves under stress is oxygen. So take deep breaths right before you speak. And during your talk, if you feel on the edge of panic, pause and breathe. You’ll be amazed at what the gift of a little extra oxygen can do to mitigate those nervous symptoms.
- Pause. This is a vastly underutilized but powerful speaking technique. It’s very effective to stop and collect your thoughts when they’ve suddenly evaporated. It also makes the audience anticipate what you’re going to say next. It keeps your rate from getting too fast. And it gives you the opportunity to breathe.
- Adjust your attitude. Instead of being me-focused—Oh no, I’m so nervous. I’m going to do awful. No one will listen to me.”—try to be genuinely audience focused. Think about what you can do for them, not what this is doing to you.
- Believe in your success. If you’ve prepared well and practiced enough, you should easily be able to visualize a positive and successful outcome. Use that visualization to make it more likely to happen.
- Lighten up. Finally, try not to take yourself so seriously. Have fun. So what if it’s not perfect? Stuff happens in presentations-the projector fails, there’s no power outlet, you forget your handouts, there’s an annoying interruption… But just learn to say “So what?” That will go a long ways toward putting things into perspective. Besides, it’ll give you some great stories to tell later!
The important thing is, don’t let the anxiety master you. When you feel caught in its grips, tell yourself, “Oh, I’m nervous. Well, good. That means I’ll do a better job.” Recognize it, acknowledge it, then work to power through it. Once you can get over the anxiety hump, you will find the rest of the presentation will go beautifully.