Have you ever felt nervous while doing a speech? Shaking knees, sweaty hands and the words don’t come out as easily as usual. Luckily, there is an easy trick for you to relax and bring your head back in to the game.
Change how you breathe.
What is stage fright?
Nervousness and anxiety during presentations is quite usual. The reason for those butterflies in your stomach is that your body perceives the situation as dangerous. And in danger your brain reverts to its lower functions to help you to survive. Imagine, that when a caveman or cave woman met a saber tooth tiger, they did not need to calculate math equations or recite poetry. What they needed was to fight or flight to live another day.
In short, when you are afraid, then your body reverts to its lower brain functions instead of using higher cognitive capabilities.
But how logical it is to be as afraid of your pleasant audience as a pack of rabid hyenas rushing towards you?
It is unlikely that your audience eat you alive if you make a mistake. Yet, your body is still hardwired to flush you with chemicals when it perceives danger.
(Innovation Haven does not take any responsibility for your potential loss of limbs or other appendages due to failed presentations. Please stay safe when you are giving a speech to cannibals.)
How to conquer stage fright?
Slow down to recognize and acknowledge how you feel
The mind can only pay attention to 6+/- 2 things at the same time and sometimes there is so much information to process that you simply do not have capacity to realize what is going on in you. Allow yourself to slow down, to recognize and acknowledge what is going on in your body.
Your audience won’t run away if you take a second to get back into your centre and calm your nerves.
Pro tip: If you feel a bit tense on stage, what would happen if you tell your audience that you are feeling a bit nervous? You are human just as they are, and it is quite likely that they have been already in the same situation as you are. So by telling them what is going on in you – by speaking about the elephant in the room – you audience might also be a bit more empathetic with you. 😉
If you feel that there is a tension, fear or any nervousness then just breathe deeply.
Take a deep breath slowly down to your belly, hold it, then exhale slowly. Repeat a few more times and recognize how your inner feelings shifted.
I know, it sounds super simple, but this works.
Why this works?
Deep breaths stimulate the vagus nerve, which regulates the fight or flight response in our bodies. Through taking slow breaths your mind gets the information that “things are fine, relax” so it can shift back to using the higher functions of your brain.
If you have ever attended a yoga class or meditation session, then you know how important is proper breathing technique in these activities. Well, it turns out that the ancient yogis levitating towards enlightenment were definitely onto something.
Read more about the science part of breaths and relaxation here.
Pro tip: A teacher of mine recommended to make sounds when exhaling because this resonates the chest bone and gives extra stimulation to the vagus nerve. It helps, at the same time you might not want to make a big “Ahh” sound when you are presenting to your bosses. You decide if your situation is fit for it.
Next level tricks for really determined people
Now that you know that by breathing deep in your belly you can overcome fear, calm nerves and relax your body let’s bring this tool to the next level. First practice to keep awareness on your body in tense situations, and keep your breathing steady even when your body wants into fear mode.
The pragmatic approach for conquering stage fright
Practice, practice, practice. use every opportunity you have to make a speech. Make mistakes and realize that the world will not end if you don’t do everything perfectly.
The spiritual way to embrace nervousness on stage
Yoga is super helpful to practice relaxing into (occasionally painful) situations through breathing and self awareness. Meditation helps you to be more aware of your thoughts and your inner processes.
The savage way of shattering stage fright through sheer will and determination
Take cold showers in the morning. What I do is turning off the hot water in the shower in the end and stay under the cold for about a minute. The important thing is to focus on keeping your breath slow and steady while the chilly water sprinkles you. By reflex you might gasp for air going into hyperventilation, but practice keeping your breathing slow and steady. By doing this you train your body to keep focused, aware and calm in tense situations. And it also kick-starts your day with a huge boost of energy 😉
Fun fact: There is a guy called Wim Hoff who can sit in ice-cold water for hours just by focusing on his breathing.
Additional inspiration: Check this hilarious TED video about overcoming stage fright through advice from a comedian.
Experiment with these tricks and feel free to write to me about how they work for you. I am super interested to hear your experiences 😊
Have fun breathing!