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8 Ways To Keep Calm Even If You Are Seriously Nervous.

8 Ways To Keep Calm Even If You Are Seriously Nervous.
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Public speaking. Bungee jumping. Confronting a tough customer. These are just some instances which can bring chills to spines and sweat to palms.

It’s normal to feel nervous before or in the midst of an undertaking. What separates the mediocre from the remarkable is the ability to perform despite the nerves. And these are some ways to stay calm in nervous situations.

1. Acknowledge and decide

There’s no point pretending that the nerves aren’t there when you feel crippled by it. Identify it, acknowledge it and come to terms with it.

Even the best athletes feel nervous during race day. Even top notch influential speakers experience some chills before facing the crowd.

Remind yourself that it’s perfectly alright to feel nervous before taking the leap – you are human after all. However, don’t just stop there. Decide in your head that you would not allow your nerves to get the better of you.

2. Segmenting

One technique which the U.S Navy SEALs employ to thrive and operate in high-stakes and high-stress environments is segmenting, which is simply to break down a seemingly daunting task into more digestible and manageable bits.

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A former SEAL talked about how he used segmenting to get through hell week (one of the most arduous and grueling military training in the world in which trainees get no more than 4 hours of sleep over 5 and a half days): Instead of seeing how he would get through the entire day, he encouraged and committed himself to just make it through to breakfast time, then lunch time, and then dinner time.

Thus, whenever you face an overwhelming task that’s driving you nervous, break it down and work through it one bit at a time.

3. Mental rehearsals and visualization

Imagine yourself having to deliver a presentation in front of your company of 100 employees. You haven’t really spoken in public that often and you’re not even sure if you are the most eloquent or charismatic speaker in the room.

You get nervous. Extremely nervous.

At this point, many would think that everything would just fail and crumble before their very eyes – they trip while getting on stage, the projector explodes, members of the audience jeer and throw office staplers at them.

Don’t go down that path. Do something totally different.

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Perform mental rehearsals of yourself delivering a confident and compelling speech. Don’t just practice your address physically, but visualize yourself doing it in your head as well.

4. Scenario planning

In my 2 and a half years in the military, we were taught how to respond to different scenarios when we were, for instance, doing a patrol on a street or clearing a building.

The key to scenario planning is to anticipate the different scenarios which might occur and then decide your course of action when that particular scenario happens. The important thing is to decide what you are going to do even before that scenario happens, so that when it actually occurs, your response would be second nature.

For example, if we kicked down the door when storming a building, we already know how to react if an enemy pops up from a corner – we would react accordingly without hesitation. We just don’t have time to consider our options on the spot when something happens – it might be too late.

Back to the company presentation, anticipate what might possibly go wrong and come up with your course of action if it does. What do you do when you suddenly forget your points? You could have some flashcards in your pocket. What do you do when the laptop fails? You could have a spare one on standby or have a plan to proceed without using it.

5. Begin with the end in mind

When you step onto the stage to deliver your presentation, what is your ultimate purpose? What are you achieving? Why are you doing the presentation in the first place?

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Decide on your purpose and objective and keep your eyes on it. Everything else is just noise and distraction.

6. Controlled breathing techniques

It’s interesting that our body affects our minds and vice versa. When you think of fear, you end up feeling frightened. When you make yourself smile, you tend to improve your overall mood.

People who are nervous usually take short and shallow breaths. And such breathing patterns only serve to keep them nervous.

What you could do is to deliberately control your breathing by adopting what I call the 4x4x4 breathing technique.

Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds (you can count by saying in your head one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, four-thousand), exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds, and then repeat that cycle for 3 more times.

7. Adopt a confident posture

Amy Cuddy’s TED talk sheds light on how our posture affects our confidence levels. She says that adopting a “power pose” – standing with your arms on your hips like Wonder Woman or your arms stretched wide – can make you feel more confident and assertive.

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When you are about to do something and you feel the nerves, go to somewhere private and take just 2 minutes to adopt a confident posture. Once done, head back out and get going!

8. Focus on the work, not the nerves

Last but not least, sometimes the best way to overcome the nerves is to take action instead of waiting for the nerves to go away.

When doing a public presentation, take a bold step forward and give the best speech you have ever given. When confronting a tough customer, pick up the phone, make the call and say what you need to say.

Don’t focus on the nerves. Focus on the work you need to do. Don’t forget why you are doing that task in the first place. Hold on to your true purpose and go for gold – the nerves don’t stand a chance!

Featured photo credit: Alex Wong via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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