3 techniques to calm yourself before that big speech

If delivering a presentation gives you the jitters, the willies or the dreaded heebie-jeebies, try these scientific approaches to chilling out so you can wow your audience.

These are among the simplest tools in my coaching toolkit-so simple that many speakers dismiss them as ineffective.

Research supports each of these smart, small tactics, which you can use to help your mind and body reframe any stress and anxiety you have before you give a speech or presentation:

1. Power posing: Use body motion to boost your confidence quickly. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy researched using power posing—standing tall with your arms taking up as much space as possible above your waist—before high-stakes speaking tasks, specifically those in which you might be evaluated, such as a job interview or public speaking. And it works.

To see how to do it and learn about the findings, watch Cuddy’s TED talk on power posing, now one of the most-watched TED talks, and read the research behind it.

2. Smiling: Research shows that simply smiling has surprising benefits, from lowering your blood pressure and quelling stress-inducing hormones to improving your emotions and how you process them.

There’s another TED talk at the link to clue you in to all the special physical and mental benefits you get from simply pushing your cheeks up into a smile (triggering the release of key brain chemicals). Best of all, no one will realize that you’re doing it.

My advice: Start smiling before the talk. You may as well get all the feel-good benefits before you’re on stage.

3. Coaching yourself with the right pronoun: Pronouns matter when psyching yourself up, new research shows. So instead of saying to yourself, “I need to look at the audience more,” try the second or third person, and say, “You need to look at the audience more.”

Tested on people about to give a five-minute speech, the researchers found “participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using I or me.”

Denise Graveline is a Washington, DC-based speaker coach who has coached more than 100 speakers for TEDMED or TEDx talks. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, The Eloquent Woman.


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