Learn to laugh, breathe, and push a wall to purge those nerves before you present to senior leaders.
It was 7:00 a.m. on a Friday morning many years ago, and I was scheduled to give a speech to the senior leadership team at Honeywell’s Systems and Research Center. It would be the first presentation I’d ever made to a group of executives. I was so nervous my hands shook, my knees wobbled, and I didn’t have a speck of spit left in my mouth to swallow.
I arrived at the conference room an hour early to practice and get my nerves under control. I was wired and so scared about making a fool of myself in front of my senior leadership team. I started speaking to the empty room, pretending each seat held an executive. Suddenly, I heard someone clapping, and I turned to find a man standing in the doorway.
“Honey, you’re going to be just fine,” smiled the janitor as he held both hands above his head in a victory shake. “Just look ‘em straight in the eye when you speak, answer their questions, and don’t forget to breathe.” I started to laugh, and in an instant, my nervousness disappeared. I thanked him for the tips, and by the time the executives came into the room, I was ready. I’ve never forgotten that man, and that he cared enough to give a frightened young businesswoman some much needed encouragement. I learned that day how laughter and remembering to breathe are excellent ways to dispel what I not so fondly referred to as the presentation terrors.
A couple of years later, I learned another way to manage the presentation terrors. I came across an article about how actor Yul Brenner pushed a wall before each of his performances in The King and I. He understood that by managing his nervous energy he would give a better performance.
Nervous energy is simply unchecked adrenalin, and it’s not a bad thing. Without energy, our presentation delivery is blah and boring. Learning to harness it allows us to direct that energy into our voice and gestures, which increases our power to inform, persuade and motivate others. When we don’t know how to manage that energy, adrenalin floods our bodies. The result? A shaky, weak voice. Sweaty hands. And, wobbly knees. So, the next time your adrenalin is misbehaving right before an important presentation, find something to laugh about and push a wall:
- Stand about two feet in front of your chosen wall.
- Place both hands flat against it.
- Push as hard as you can. As you push, your diaphragm will tighten, and the adrenalin will disperse throughout your body, leaving you with energy—and without the shakes.
Not convenient to push a wall? No worries. Just sit back in your chair and push against the conference table, discretely—but as hard as you can. You’ll get the same result, and no one will notice.
And, whatever you do, don’t forget to breathe!
Please share your own tips about how to manage the presentation terrors.