From the second you discover you have to make that important presentation, pitch that idea and win that contract, you’re nervous. Call it stage fright, nerves, a bad case of butterflies or downright nausea, you know you’d be more successful if you could just calm down.
And you’d be right. Though having some nerves is a good thing (they’ll push you into giving the best performance you can, and prevent you from becoming too blasé), getting too worked up, short of breath, panicked and hot will damage your professionalism and affect your achievements.
Luckily, many people have been in your shoes before – including half your audience – meaning there’s plenty of tried and tested advice to help you keep your cool and collect your thoughts the next time you pitch!
Prepare and practice.
It’s no good researching your points to perfection if you haven’t prepared and practiced how you’re going to perform them. Before any presentation, run through your speech until you know it inside out and can say it clearly, calmly – and crucially – slowly. In your pre-pitch prep, try to gauge the questions you’re likely to be asked, and prepare great responses – don’t fear the inquisitive investor! If they’re asking difficult questions, that’s great! It means they’re seriously interested in what you have to say. Try not to take a grilling as a personal attack, negotiate with them, and aim to give a great response to look professional and capable.
Though it might seem helpful to have your points written down, having lots of notes and loose paper around could lead you off-topic, or confuse your audience. Memorising as much as you can will make you look more knowledgeable and professional. Don’t worry – if you’ve done enough preparation you won’t forget the important things!
Once you’ve done as much preparation as you can, focus on staying cool calm and unhurried. You want to enter that room with confidence, prepared to give your best, and leave knowing you couldn’t have done any better.
Breathe, stretch, and stand tall, confident and strong.
Though it’s on a smaller scale, a pitch is a performance in front of an audience – and no performer should go on without warming up first. Creating a warm up routine to use before pitching will help you soothe your nerves, focus your mind and loosen your body, leaving you physically and mentally prepared to do well.
To start, find a quiet place to focus, possibly away from other people, to collect your thoughts. Breathe deeply, and try to slow your breathing as this will calm you and get a little more oxygen into your bloodstream to make you feel more alert. If you loosen up physically, you’ll feel more relaxed, so focus on releasing the muscular tension and anxiety in your body by stretching – roll your neck and shoulders, loosen your jaw and twist from the waist – as if you were warming up for a session in the gym. Meditation techniques too, such as breathing control or even saying a mantra (try humming or repeating a single syllable – like a vocal exercise) will release a lot of pent-up stress, so include them if you think they will help you.
Remember, a confident physical approach creates a confident demeanour, makes you less likely to appear desperate, and instils audience trust in your abilities – so stand tall, don’t slouch, make eye contact and smile!
Before you walk in and dazzle your audience, find something – an image or a phrase maybe – to ground you and remind you that though this is important, it’s not the end of the world if it goes wrong. There is more to life! Remembering this once you get into that meeting, and visualising the result you want to achieve will help you focus and relax.
If you’re still struggling, use visualisation to neutralise audience-related stress. Those professionals you’re talking to? They’re people as well! They got dressed, came to work, and will go home later to watch TV just like you. You don’t have to imagine them in their underwear unless it’ll help, just don’t allow a corporate image to intimidate you.
A few last tips.
Only you know what’s right for you and what will calm you down – it’s a very personal thing!
As a part of your preparation try to plan your day so that it’s as stress free as possible; know what you’re going wear in advance, and try to arrive early so you’re not rushed and have time to get into the right frame of mind. Unless you’re used to the caffeine high, don’t drink twelve coffees before you go in (though they’ll definitely make you more alert, they won’t help your calm persona!), and make sure you sleep well the night before.
Do this, and you’ll find yourself calm, serene, and ready to take on any performance, pitch or presentation which comes your way.
Alastair Kane, a freelance writer and business blogger, supplied this article on behalf of Communicaid a culture and business communication skills consultancy based in the UK.