by Peter Watts
Presentation nerves are a form of panic attack known as “Fight or Flight”. Evolved to keep our ancestors safe in their prehistoric world, it now generates the unpleasant sensations we suffer when faced not with predators, but presentations.
People report a standard palette of reactions, some of which you will share:
Accelerated heart rate
Cold, clammy hands
- Trembling and loss of concentration
We can control nerves rather than be controlled by them. The most effective way to do this is through managing our breathing so that we help the heart to maintain its normal speed rather than hurtling off in a presentation rush.
During Fight or Flight, the heart accelerates to pump more oxygen around the body. Breathing meanwhile moves from stomach based, to chest based, becoming shallower in the process. So, just as the heart races to pump more oxygen, the lungs bring in less, making the heart beat faster to oxygenate vital muscles. As the heart’s oxygen demand outpaces supply, blood pressure increases. Sweating and looking flushed are common responses.
Slow the heart and those other reactions slow down with it; sweating stops and tell-tale blushing reduces. Cool the demand for oxygen and you cool overheating. The solution therefore; take a big deep breath.
Focus attention onto breathing out, completely emptying your lungs of stale air and creating capacity for deeper breaths in response.
Here is the process:
- Slowly breath out for as long as you can
- When you can breath out no more, push out three extra puffs, totally emptying the lungs
- Roll back your shoulders, opening the chest cavity as wide as possible
- Relax! Let your body naturally pull in the deepest breathe you’ve inhaled in weeks!
Two more like this, and you will be fully oxygenated. You might even notice a mild dizziness. Our brains burn oxygen, and you’ve hit yours with more oxygen than it’s had in months. Net result, head-rush!
Your heart meanwhile slows down, and as the heart relaxes, you relax.
You are back in control. This is how professional presenters remain calm in front of the biggest audiences.
Control your breathing, and presenting becomes significantly easier.
For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts: