You’re sitting at your desk early one morning and the phone rings. It’s the boss and he asks you if you could do him a favour. He’s meant to address a small group of business people at the Town Hall at 4:00 o’clock that afternoon but something has come up and he can’t be there. So the favour is, will you go in his stead and address them for about twenty minutes on the company and how they might benefit from using your company’s services. You say (with as much gusto and confidence as you can muster), “Sure, leave it with me”. The instant you place the phone down all sorts of things start to happen to your body. None of them could be deemed as ‘nice’.
The fear of standing and presenting to an audience is well documented but why the fear?
The fear is sensed because there is a perceived threat to your ego. That doesn’t make us fragile or egotistical, it’s just a fact. We are super sensitive when it comes to protecting how others see us.
Once the threat has been perceived then over 200 physiological changes start taking place to get your body ready to do one of two things. Either (a) get the heck out of there, or (b) stay and tough it out to the bitter end.
This entire sequence of events might be best known to you as ‘The Flight and Fight Response’. It’s the body’s self defense mechanism and it’s nice to know that it works so well, but you really wish you could turn it off prior to making a presentation. The bad news is that you can’t switch it off, but the good news is you can lessen the response thereby gaining better control of your bodily functions. In particular, the part that controls the access to the memory.
One way to reduce the Flight and Fight Response is by diaphragmatic breathing. You need to stand up, have good posture, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Then inhale and exhale, forcing the air to the ‘bottom’ of your lungs. You might find it easier to deliberately push your stomach out which will draw the breath in. If you’re doing it right then the hand on your stomach should be moving in and out while the hand on your chest remains still.
The only other physical action you can take to reduce the effect of Flight and Fight is to rid yourself of excess energy. You’ve seen athletes awaiting the start of a race… they try to stay limber whilst shaking out (through their hands usually) excess energy. Not even they want the ‘bad’ (excess) energy. This build up of energy is the main cause of shaking and fidgeting whilst presenting and gives off a look of lack of confidence. Walk up a flight of stairs, go for a walk round the block, if you find yourself in the washroom (and I’m guessing you will) then close the door and shake it out as the athletes do.
When you walk into the room to present, it is imperative that you look (not necessarily ‘feel’) confident. Do the breathing and rid yourself of the excess energy and you’ll be better placed to give a more confident appearance. An audience will trust a confident speaker and will distrust a nervous one, so do everything possible to get it right the first time. So if you are at work one morning and the boss does give you a call… answer it with confidence, it counts.