One of the biggest fears in the U.S. is the fear of public speaking. Below are some proven strategies that can help you relax before your next presentation. Even the most skilled presenter deals with nerves, and no one is born being a great presenter. We all have to develop our skills. Techniques like these will both help you feel less nervous and appear less nervous to your audience.
1. Stand in a confident posture
Researcher Amy Cuddy has published research that indicates standing in a confident body posture for just two minutes before your presentation lessens stress hormones produced by the body. By standing in a “power pose,” you can decrease cortisol levels in your body and increase testosterone, and therefore, feel more confident when you do speak. To create a “power pose,” think of standing like a super hero—legs spread slightly wider than hip-width, arms on hips, straight back, chin up. (Do your most presentation-friendly venue version of this posture. Obviously, don’t mimic Superman in front of your audience right before you speak.)
2. Prepare and practice
There is no secret lesson in this strategy. People who have rehearsed their presentation feel more confident. Know your message the best that you can. Rehearse your material. Practice with your technology. Understand your audience—who are they, what is their motivation for attending your presentation? The more prepared you are in all of these areas, the more at-ease you will feel on the day of your presentation.
3. Visualize your speech
Athletes use this technique before games. Imagine yourself giving your presentation and succeeding. Put as much detail into the visualization as possible. Think about the room and what it will look like. Picture yourself in front of your audience and include specific faces in your visualization. What does the room smell like? How crowded is it? Watch yourself progressing through your talk. Most importantly, at each stage of this visualization, imagine yourself delivering a great presentation!
4. Relax your muscles
When we are anxious, we tend to tense muscles in part of our body. Anxious speakers will generally tense their shoulders, neck, upper arms, or behind their knees. Try to notice what part of your body gets tense before you speak and while you speak. Make a concerted effort to relax these muscles. Letting go of the physical tension can help you feel better mentally, too.
5. Positive self-talk
I know from experience, this one is easier said than done … but be nice to yourself. You are likely your own worst critic and are judging yourself more harshly than anyone member of your audience. As you prepare, focus on what you are doing well and where you see improvement. When you catch yourself critiquing your own performance, try to let those thoughts go. Audiences are more positive than you imagine. They will be rooting for you. You need to root for yourself too!