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Stressed About Public Speaking? Discover The Top 3 Reasons To Relax With The Most Effective Strategy

Jan Bailey is a seasoned communication and public speaking trainer specializing in leadership presence, clear communication and confident presenting. Fascinated by the reluctance most people have around speaking up, speaking out and speaking in front of others, Jan set out to change the way people think about public speaking and presenting.

 
Executive Contributor Jan Bailey

We all love a quick fix. If it’s cool, it’s unique or if it’s guaranteed to work instantly, we’re all in. It doesn’t hurt if it’s ‘a signature move’, ‘a patented process’ or ‘a revolutionary discovery’, either, because we also like to feel exclusive. What if I told you that the most effective strategy for calming you down, connecting with your audience and eliminating those nasty ‘weed words’ is something you don’t have to buy, you only have to start using it?

 

Microphone with Crowd

Spoiler alert, it’s your breath. It’s not sexy, but it’s true.


Okay. I heard that groan of disappointment. Stick with me and read along and you just might change your perspective. Think about the last time you spoke in front of others. Imagine yourself in the space before your talk. Remember how it felt to wait for people to show up, wonder if they would be engaged and hope that you remembered your speaking plan.


Are you feeling some of that pre-performance angst? Your heart rate is elevated a little or a lot; your hands and armpits are sweaty; your mouth is strangely dry, and your breathing is part of this meeting of the ‘Nervous and Shaken Club,’ and you feel a bit breathless, even though you’re standing still.


In the spirit of this visualization experiment, let’s talk about how you might break this ever-escalating cycle of nerves. Because that’s what it is. As you become aware of the symptoms of your nervousness, you actually become more nervous! Oh no; what if I have to shake someone’s hand, or, I can already hear that strange sticky wet sound as my tongue peels off the roof of my mouth. Can everyone else hear it? All this happens, and you get more and more uncomfortable as you feel powerless to change anything. 


We’ve all been there and you need to know you are not powerless to change this symptom cyclone. 


Consider this:


  • Can you will your hands to stop sweating?

  • Can you negotiate a slowdown with your heart?

  • Can you increase saliva production on demand?

  • Can you consciously deepen and regulate your breath? 


Oh wait. You can consciously deepen and regulate your breath.


And that means you can interrupt the nervous system cyclone. Let’s do a quick anatomy refresher so we’re all on the same page. You all know why this is happening. You’re feeling a bit nervous (which is not a bad thing) because you’re invested in the outcome of this talk. You start to feel some of that angst in the form of gurgling stomach, shaky muscles, brain fog, or any or all of the symptoms previously mentioned. All of these are indications of an adrenalin response, or, say it with me – fight, flight or freeze. Intellectually you know this is what’s happening, but that doesn’t really help you in the moment. Your body is simply responding to the thoughts of uncertainty, discomfort or fear in your brain and it’s gearing up for fight, flight or freeze. To state the obvious, none of these responses are beneficial in a speaking situation!


Remember, this is an automatic response, and one that is happening below your consciousness (for the most part) But, the one thing you can control, the one thing that is within your grasp and is totally conscious is your breath. 


Your breath is key to 3 very beneficial things


1. Your breath calms you before speaking

You are the star of the show and it’s essential that you feel like your brain is in the room. Your breath has an astounding ability to do that. Try it right now. Breathe in for a count of 3 and breathe out for a count of 4. Notice that the exhale is longer than the inhale? Think about when you sit down in your comfy chair at the end of a day to read a book; what do you do? A big sigh of an exhale. When you finish that end of project report and click send; what do you do? A big sigh of an exhale.


That exhale you’re aware of when it comes out like a ‘phew’ or an ‘ahh’ is the cue for your brain to register relaxation, safety and relief, all things that signal you are calm. So, if you want to manually reset your brain when it’s in a nervous system cyclone; what do you do? Breathe in and big sigh of an exhale until you physically feel calm.


Try it. You’ll be delighted you did.


2. Your breath syncs you with your audience

Another interesting phenomena is how our breathing syncs us with the people around us. The easiest way to think of this is to imagine yourself speaking with a Yoga instructor…


Now imagine yourself speaking with a high-intensity Spin Class instructor…


No, back to Yoga… 


Are you getting the idea? Very subtly, yet very consistently, we mirror the breathing patterns of those we’re speaking with or listening to. Whoa. Think about that for a second; if you’re breathing high and fast, your audience will begin to mirror your breathing and guess how they begin to feel? Yes! They begin to feel anxious because their bodies are signalling to their brains that they’re in danger.


So, take a big breath and exhale. If you breathe calmly and slowly, your audience will mirror that breath; you’ll calm yourself, your audience will feel more relaxed and receptive and, as an excellent by product, you’ll also be perceived as more confident and competent. Win Win.


3. Your breath naturally edits ‘weed words’

Despite the fact that we try to rush it, breathing actually takes a bit of time. If you tend not to pause when you speak, or you don’t take time to exhale completely, you’ll likely find you’re a bit breathless at the end of a talk. Whether that’s answering a question, introducing yourself or delivering a presentation, breathless doesn’t feel great.


When you become aware of pausing for a breath, expect a fabulous benefit; fewer weed words (also known as filler words). In the time you take to breathe between sentences, a couple of things are happening that genuinely help you sound more confident and prepared.


First: You’re focused on breathing so there’s less space to throw in an ‘um’. You’re exchanging ‘um’ for oxygen. Brilliant.


Second: With that same oxygenating breath, you’re feeding your brain! Presenting in any form is intellectually, creatively and emotionally taxing and all that takes energy. In that brief pause where you take a big breath, you’re generously feeding your brain. And that bit of extra brain energy might also mean you don’t lose your train of thought or specific words as frequently.


It seems to be human nature to look outside ourselves for solutions and it’s certainly a good idea to get help when it’s available. When you’re walking to the front of the room and all eyes are shifting toward you, however, it’s a one-person show, and you’re the star. How great is it to know that you have the ability to override your over-active nerves with the power of your breath.

 

Speaking in front of others can genuinely shake your confidence and your sense of self. As a communication trainer specializing in public speaking and presenting, I work with people at all levels of business to improve their confidence in all speaking and presenting scenarios. If you’ve found this article helpful, please look for my other articles, follow me on Instagram @ovationspeakers, connect with me, Jan Bailey, on LinkedIn or reach out via my website. I’d be delighted to help you give yourself or your team the gift of clear, confident communication; every time you speak.

 

 

Jan Bailey, Communication and Speaking Coach

Jan Bailey is a seasoned communication and public speaking trainer specializing in leadership presence, clear communication and confident presenting. Fascinated by the reluctance most people have around speaking up, speaking out and speaking in front of others, Jan set out to change the way people think about public speaking and presenting. More laughter and less lecture, more personality and less powerpoint and a whole lot more confidence means professionals at all levels are more effective communicators. A dynamic speaker, an engaging facilitator and an insightful coach, Jan genuinely believes in the power of effective communication to change lives; personally and professionally.


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