You’ve prepared your slides, practised your presentation, and are as ready as you’ll ever be – but what else can you do to minimise nerves before you hit the stage?
Here are my top seven tips on how to mentally and physically prepare on the morning of your big presentation.
1. Visualise your presentation going amazingly well for 15 minutes
Believe it or not, our brains struggle to separate real and imagined events. In a famous study by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson, basketball players showed 23% improvement in free throws when they visualised practising, compared to 24% when they actually practiced. Mentally rehearsing your presentation is like telling your brain how to behave; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The key to making visualisation work is to engage the senses. Imagine the venue, see the audience hanging onto your every word, hear yourself deliver with confidence, replay your brilliant content. Do this for 15 minutes in as much detail as possible. Exaggerate the experience to engage your emotional brain. Don’t just think of yourself doing well, picture yourself performing brilliantly!
2. Power dress
What we wear affects our emotional state, cognitive abilities, and even hormone levels. A psychological study conducted in 2012 showed that people who wore a doctor’s white lab coat made half as many mistakes on attention-demanding tasks than those who wore their normal clothes – so wear something you feel smart in! Layers are a good idea as we tend to get hot when we’re nervous and don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes if you’re planning to move around so you’re steady on your feet.
3. Watch what you drink
Go easy on your caffeine intake before you get on stage – it increases your cortisol levels which makes you more reactive to stress. It’s also a diuretic so you’ll be wanting to use the bathroom all the time. Steer clear of fizzy drinks as we already swallow air when we’re nervous. Instead, drink water – it fully hydrates you, making you sharper, smarter and even more creative.
4. Arrive early to check out the room
Arriving early gives you a chance to check out the room and practice standing at the front to ’normalise’ how it feels. You can use the spare time to get your visual aids set up and check you’re comfortable with any AV. You may want to swap microphones if there’s a distracting echo, for example. Once you’re all set up, you can get into ‘show mode’ by meeting and greeting your audience as they come in. It helps to see a few familiar faces when you later look out over the crowd.
5. Burn off some adrenaline by exercising lightly
Adrenaline gives us energy for an enthusiastic performance, but too much of it can be uncomfortable. Burn some off by taking a short, brisk walk before you speak. The ‘sink and stretch’ exercise is also a good way to do this – stand tall with your arms up in the air, let them fall to the floor, and repeat. (Best done in a private room next door!)
6. Breathe from your diaphragm
When we feel anxious, we have a habit of shallow breathing which creates an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bodies, leading to a release of adrenalin and those unpleasant fight or flight symptoms. Diaphragmatic, or ‘belly’ breathing readjusts this balance, calming us down. To belly breathe make your stomach inflate when you inhale and then ensure it fully deflates on the exhale.
7. Power pose and smile
It’s been proven that ‘power posing’ raises our testosterone levels by 20%, helping us feel more confident, dominant and resilient – a good state of mind to be in for presenting. Just before you get on stage, find a secret spot where you can stand tall with your arms up in the air and stretched apart for two minutes. Smile like crazy while you’re doing it, because flexing your face muscles causes a release of serotonin and dopamine, even if you’re faking it. By the time the two minutes are up, you’ll be raring to go!
Learn more about how to manage nerves and grow to love public speaking in 1-to-1 presentation skills coaching.
This article was written by Carrie Swift, Founder & CEO of Fearless.