Does this sound like you? You know your job well, you can communicate clearly in many situations, you lead a successful team BUT sometimes when it comes to presenting (virtually or face to face) in high-pressure situations you can lose all sense of control? Sometimes your presentations are fine but other times your heart just pounds so much you feel like it may jump out your chest (and you may suffer from some other public speaking speech anxiety symptoms too).
Some people resort to Beta Blockers to slow their heart down (which I don’t recommend for the reasons in my blog on ‘Why drugs aren’t the answer!’). The best solution is to deal with the symptoms and uncover the cause of the pounding heart.
So how can you prevent your racing heart from sabotaging your business presentations? There are 3 areas to focus on, mindset, body language and breathing/voice:
Our state of mind is impacted by the things we tell ourselves, we’ve coined these negative voices in your head ‘Public Speaking Monkeys‘. They cause you to think negatively about your upcoming presentation. Different people have different monkeys, some of the common things they tell you are ‘You’re stupid!’ and ‘You’re not good enough!’ or ‘You’re boring’. It is important not to just ignore these voices, but understand how they are trying to help you & then replace them with more encouraging ‘Helpful Monkeys’. Those negative monkeys cause an increase in your heart rate because you feel fearful which can then kick off the ‘downward spiral’ where one thing leads to another and the situation goes into free fall. We’ve worked with clients who have even pretended to get cut off of their own virtual call because they felt so out of control. You feel your heart rate increase, you begin to worry about coming across as anxious, and then you look worried and actually do come across as nervous – a self-fulfilling prophecy! You can read more on this downward spiral and how to correct it in these 2 books High-Performance Presentations and How To Tame Your Public Speaking Monkeys.
Not everybody realises that your body language impacts how you think and how you think impacts your body language. Standing correctly with a good presenter stance where you are upright, shoulders are back and the head is raised gives you the best chance of having a good mindset which will come through in your breathing and voice. In fact, we have written a whole blog on the importance of good posture for public speaking which you can find here which includes free video training. Similar techniques apply even when you are sitting down and speaking.
In our ‘present with confidence‘ training course, we also show participants where to look and where not to look when presenting, how to remain calm and how to come across with gravitas.
When your heart is pounding and you’re feeling nervous about presenting you are also likely to be breathing too quickly. Most adults in the western world actually are not breathing correctly, they are breathing from their upper chest, causing their shoulders to go up and down as they breathe, rather than using their diaphragm to breathe. Try this exercise now; take a deep breath in, and a relaxed breath out. Notice – did your shoulders go up towards your ears and back down? If so, you have a dysfunctional breathing technique and you are shallow breathing (for more information see our blog on don’t forget to breathe). With the activity just now, if you are breathing correctly your stomach should move out and in.
Once you have the correct breathing in place, you can focus on getting rid of tension in your voice and speaking clearly.
In addition to these 3 areas, we work with participants to ensure their messages are clear and simple which contributes to a feeling of being calm, confident and in control. If you want more help with dealing with public speaking fear, see these tips on overcoming nerves.
P.S. You may not feel like your public speaking nerves are typical – after all, you might present all the time and be OK most of the time … but even so, something is making your heart pound and it is likely to be some sort of anxiety or stress. Don’t believe those people who say “this is something you need to learn to live with”. We believe you can learn to present without your heart pounding through your chest and instead feeling calm and confident.