Whether you need to address large groups or small, familiar faces or new, you may feel that the stress of speaking is always with you. If so, these seven tips will help you work through tension and communicate with confidence.
1. Recognize that stress is natural: It helps you sort out which situations are "dangerous" and which are not. The problem occurs when presenters allow their minds to dwell on the stress rather than on the situation. They become short of breath, the brain doesn't get enough oxygen, and tension sets in. Most presenters manage to remain below the panic level -- avoiding the fight/flight syndrome -- and most survive each experience. However, there's more to life than mere survival.
2. Focus on the message. Think to yourself: "I'm here to share information" -- whether to inform, persuade, clarify, or serve some other purpose. "The participants are attending to hear what I can share with them." "They want me to do well because that's to their benefit, too."
3. Check your room before anyone arrives. Look at the seating arrangement and visualize people in the chairs. Move around the room: Become comfortable in your surroundings. Walk to the lectern, stand there. Move away to break the barrier -- as you should do periodically when presenting. All living creatures need to adjust to a new environment.
4. Practice operating your visual equipment. Dexterity improves with experience and reduces the mind's concerns. That, too, contributes to calmness.
5. Practice -- aloud -- delivering the opening and closing parts of your presentation. Then practice the middle of your presentation with your visuals. Mental rehearsal is beneficial but it can never substitute for speaking out loud. More muscles and mental processes are involved and, once again, experience contributes to a calmer mind.
6. Do some stress-burning exercises before you speak. Find your own, personal, stress points and work on those. Yours may be in the neck, shoulders, lower back, temples, or elsewhere. Clap your hands and rub them together briskly then place them on the tension spots. As you do, massage gently, stretch lightly, and think about relaxation. These actions and the mind's positive responses to your take-charge steps will also reduce stress.
7. As you walk to the front of the room, think about your message and move with confident body language. Between the two, your brain will assume that everything is okay. Breathe fully. And think only positive thoughts: "I am pleased to have this opportunity." "I am sharing important information that others will value." "This will be a good experience because I am prepared."
Stephen C. Rafe, president of Rapport Communications, Reston, VA, has been a counselor and coach in the field of behavior-based communication for more than two decades. He is the author of three books on this subject with HarperBusiness, a monograph with Communication Briefings, numerous manuals and pamphlets, and more than 100 published feature articles. His methods also appear in oothers' books. His clients have included Johnson & Johnson for the Tylenol crisis, AT&T for its divestiture, President Reagan's committee on strategic forces, and numerous heads of corporations, countries, and organizations. He teaches communications subjects at the university level and is a doctoral candidate. He can be contacted at: email@example.com