It’s normal to feel some performance anxiety in the moments before a crucial presentation. What you want to avoid, of course, is extreme stress that overtakes your body and your mind: sweaty palms, dry mouth, faster heart rate.
As a keynote speaker and a communication coach for high-level CEOs, I’ve studied the best methods to help people calm down and perform their best when the pressure is on. I know it’s hard to believe, but public speaking can be fun once you get rid of the nerves.
Here are three scientifically proven steps that will ease you into the big moment and help you enjoy the experience.
1. Silence your inner critic.
We are our worst critics. The negative chatter that fills our minds during the day is debilitating and destructive. While you should strive to turn negative self-talk into positive thoughts as much as possible, the few minutes before a presentation are critical–you must completely silence your inner critic during that time.
Banish your inner critic. You can always call him back later if you must, but under no condition should the critic be allowed to take over your precious thoughts before your time to shine.
You should avoid all self-doubting thoughts such as:
I should have practiced more.
I screwed up once and I’ll do it again.
Instead, you should be telling yourself:
I can’t wait to share my idea with everyone.
Note that I didn’t use positive thoughts to predict an outcome. The only thing you can control is how you feel in the two minutes before a presentation. Don’t get too caught up in debating how effective you might be or how the audience will react. That will only lead your mind to places it should be avoid.
2. Breathe like a Navy SEAL.
A Navy SEAL taught me a technique for lowering your heart rate before a stressful situation. The technique is called Box Breathing.
First, breathe in slowly and count to four. Next, hold your breath for four seconds. Finally, exhale through your mouth for four seconds. If you repeat the process three or four times, you’ll notice your heart rate begin to slow and your entire body starting to relax.
No matter how anxious you feel, your presentation isn’t the same as being dropped in a war zone. So if this works for SEALs, it will work for you.
3. Smile and have fun.
Cognitive psychologists find that smiling is a universal reaction to joy–and it’s contagious. We like to be around people who are having fun and enjoying their task.
When our minds are consumed with the details of giving a presentation, the smile leaves our face and we begin to frown. Our bodies get tense and, with tension, comes anxiety. Soon our heart rate goes up and the negative loop starts over.
Putting a big smile on your face tells your mind that what’s about to happen next is not a threat–it’s something to look forward to.
If you take your career seriously, you likely put a lot of time and thought into crafting your message and designing a great presentation. Don’t undermine all that great work in the final two minutes before your presentation. These three steps will build your confidence when you need it most.