Take a deep breath - ease anxiety and find focus before a presentation
As a teacher at the University of Mainz, I have seen students burst into tears in the middle of presentations. The dreadful thought of having all eyes on you is definitely the reason why even gifted orators, such as Eleonor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, have suffered from #anxiety before a speech or a #presentation. However, after observing my students, I came to the conclusion that the source of their anxiety was neither lack of knowledge about the topic nor of confidence, but rather poor concentration and fatigue. They had spent the night before awake reviewing notes and visual aids fueled by coffee and anxiety.
Accordingly, if you master your field and prepare an outstanding presentation, but do not embrace a relaxing ritual to chill your mind and find focus, chances are all that hard work will end up in the rubbish bin.
My purpose today is to help you create a simple relaxing ritual before holding a presentation with techniques that have given me focus and support throughout the years.
Your mind needs rest
Tomorrow is your presentation, but instead of switching off and take care of yourself, your anxiety is out of control - so much so that you drag through the night reviewing notes and visual aids until you go nuts and get no proper sleep. What happens the next day? You feel sleepy - if not exhausted - and desperately trying to find focus by having endless cups of coffee. This can severely jeopardize the quality of your presentation as whole. You might not speak with the clarity you had envisioned or end up forgetting key words, the structure of your speech or even your memory stick. By the end of this ordeal, you hope nobody will ask you a difficult question. How can you avoid such distress? The night before holding a presentation, try to forget it. Shut down your laptop, listen to music, eat something healthy, avoid alcohol and coffee at night and never - ever! - stay up late. A warm shower before going to bed will help you fall asleep more easily. Keep in mind: You are prepared and you know your topic. Why should you go over and over it? Chill.
Breathe in and out
Breathing in and out deeply and mindfully is an effective way to ease anxiety and find focus. When you breathe deeply, a message is sent to your brain to calm down. I will list my favourite breathing exercises or pranayamma, as it is called in Yoga, which I practice before lectures or presentations.
Find a calm place where you can sit down comfortably and close your eyes.
Breathe in and out deeply and sharply until you feel at ease.
Breathe in quietly and deeply through your nostrils for four seconds. Hold your breath mentally counting until seven. Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. This is a powerful exercise that might make you feel sleepy, so repeat this cycle no more than four times.
Breathe in and out deeply and slowly through your nostrils. Focus on the air filling your lungs. Breathe in positive thoughts such as peace, calmness, etc. Do not force yourself to properly think of words, but accept the beautiful thoughts as they come. Do this as much as you please.
Finally, breathe in and out naturally. When your breath is shallow and soft, open your eyes slowly.
Your #mind will certainly wander away during these exercises - so, don't get angry at yourself. Simply bring your mind back to your breath.
I hope these little rituals bring the peace of mind you need to hold fantastic presentations.
Written by Daiane Publio Dias
My name is Daiane Publio Dias, and I help professionals, scientists and scholars create outstanding presentations and speak English flawlessly in a globalized world.