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Controlling Nerves

If the idea of presenting at an upcoming team meeting makes you feel a little queasy, you aren’t alone. Public speaking is not something that most people look forward to doing. It’s likely you’ve heard all the statistics by now, though I’m not sure I completely buy into the notion that people would truly rather die than give a speech. C’mon, it’s not that bad.

Over the years, I have learned a few techniques to help keep my nerves under control. Notice I didn’t say that I have learned ways to keep myself from getting nervous. Nope – I can’t tell you that because I still get nervous and that’s okay. I firmly believe that by being nervous it means I care about doing a good job. It means that what I’m doing matters to me and to the audience and my nervousness is simply an outward expression of how much I care. That seems like a good thing to me. The goal is to make sure my nervousness doesn’t overshadow my message. 

Here are some steps to follow before you get in front of your audience. 

Number One: Be Prepared. 

If you think you are good enough to wing it, you’re wrong. The speaker who just seems so casual, so comfortable and so relaxed on stage likely has years of practice delivering his message to audiences. Or she has rehearsed that speech countless times and is not at all new to the scene of speaking or the topic. In the words of John Wooden, “Confidence comes from being prepared.” 

Number Two: Stretch and Massage. 

Focus on the places where you likely hold your tension - your shoulders, neck, and jaw. Start by reaching your arms out to your sides and feel the muscles of your chest open as you do this. Bring your arms up and over your head, touching your hands together and then bring your arms back down to their sides. Repeat this a couple of times. Then, use the tips of your fingers to apply light pressure to the muscles along the sides of your neck, adding small circular motions. Move your fingers up to the area just behind and below your earlobes. Allow your head to slowly drop to one side, bring it back up to center, and then drop your head gently to the other side. Finally, open your mouth slowly, as wide as you can, and drop your lower jaw almost as if you are about to yawn. And don’t be surprised if you do yawn at this point. You have likely just relaxed parts of your body that rarely get that luxury. 

Number Three: Practice Tongue Twisters.

Remember these? You were probably in grade school when you last said some of these funny phrases, but they are fantastic ways to engage the lips, the teeth, and the tip of the tongue. And that’s your first one to practice! “The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue.” Repeat it three or four times, and be sure to emphasize each word. Speed up as you go but be careful you don’t go too fast. You might feel a little silly at first, but remember your vocal tract is an instrument just like any other instrument and it needs to be warmed up before it has to perform. Search for other tongue twisters online and find two or three you can memorize and recite each time before you speak. 

Number Four: Breathe.

That is, breathe a certain way. Specifically, use a technique called square breathing. First, visualize a square in front of you. If it helps, look at an actual square like a window, picture frame or mirror. Starting at the bottom right corner of the square, inhale slowly to a four-count as you move up the right side of the square. At the top right corner of the square, hold for four counts as you move your eyes across the top of the square. Now, at the top left corner of the square, exhale to a four-count as you move down the left side of the square. Finally, in the bottom left corner of the square, hold your breath for four counts as you move across the bottom to where you started. Repeat this breathing technique three or four times. Be sure to not rush through it. You want to make sure that every inhale, hold, and exhale is consistently using the same four count.

With these four simple techniques, you will start taking control of your nerves so you can focus your energy on delivering your message.


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