The fight or flight reaction kicks in when we feel nervous about a speaking or presentation challenge. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands as part of this mechanism. Essentially, nature is providing us with the energy and power we need for fast or powerful reaction. However, when that challenge is delivering a presentation or speaking in public, the impact of the cortisol can be detrimental rather than helpful. Frequently, it powers down our performance instead of powering it up. The secret to staying in control and being successful is to find positive, powerful ways to release the energy. Once you have identified where you would like to improve, follow our guidelines below:
1. Be grounded and plant your feet firmly
As strange as it may seem, the key to using up excess energy is to stand still in one place (not all the time though, as explained below). Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, spread your weight evenly on both feet and adopt an upright (but comfortable) posture. Remain evenly balanced and resist the temptation to shift weight from one leg to another. This will make you look calm, in control and confident – the adrenaline can then be released in a variety of positive ways.
2. Movement with a purpose gives adrenalin a positive release
It makes sense to stay in one place, holding your grounded position, rather than wandering about aimlessly. However, you can plan to change position throughout your presentation if and when it makes sense e.g. open from the centre, move to be next to the screen to explain your visual material or cross to a flipchart to help you manage the discussion. Remember to finish your sentence, move WITHOUT speaking (audiences focus on movement first) and when you have completed the move, take up a grounded position once more.
3. Breathing effectively provides the fuel needed for voice and brain
By keeping the lower half of your body still but relaxed, and by having good open posture in the top half of your body, you should be able to breathe naturally and normally, ensuring good voice projection as well as clear thinking. You cannot do this if your muscles are tense. Practise diaphragm breathing and follow the exercises developed by The Training Box voice specialist, John Holloway, that are available here in our Treasure Chest. Before you start to speak, take a deep breath IN and OUT to relax yourself and use your breath to power your voice so that everyone can hear you. Effective breathing and voice projection are perfect ways to release the adrenaline positively.
4. Meaningful eye-contact involves the audience and gives you important information
Audiences love to be involved and treated with respect. Looking at them uses your energy positively, demonstrates confidence and draws them in. Include everyone in your opening “look” – gather attention during the introductory words. For smaller audiences, make individual eye-contact of about 3 – 5 seconds with each person. With larger audiences, use the “M” or “W” technique, turning your head in the shape of one of these two letters, looking out at the audience and starting each sweep of the room in a different place. Keep as much eye contact as you can even while explaining slides.
5. Gestures are both constructive and a release of energy
You don’t need to move your hands all of the time but descriptive gestures, matched to your words, always add value and interest e.g. on the one hand… the first thing, the second thing… When not using the hands at all, keep them at rest, loosely linked, waist high, in front of you. This is good for breathing and posture. When you have visual support, use the hand closest to the screen (not a pen or pointer) to show the audience the relevant bullet point, diagram… This combination of descriptive gestures and helpful explanation give your hands something constructive to do.
Now read how you can “Conquer your nerves” to make you feel and look good when you present or speak in public.