It’s 9 am and you have to present to your boss and a team of 6 people at 10. You’re prepared. Your slides are in order; your handouts printed and stacked neatly on your desk. You’ve rehearsed and figured out answers to any possible curve-balls. You are ready! So why are you getting nervous?
Your body is releasing cortisol – better known as the stress hormone. At 9:55 you enter the conference room. Everyone is there waiting. Your anxiety level is skyrocketing – your heart is racing, you’re breathing faster and you are really sweating now. The adrenaline-fueled fight or flight response has just kicked in at high gear. You take a deep breath and begin, even though your voice is quivering and your hands are shaking...and you get through it. By 11 the meeting is over and all you want to do is take a nap.
Cortisol and adrenaline can be your best friends or your worst enemies. This biological response is deep in your DNA and dates back to when you were focused on not getting eaten by a sabretooth tiger. In our modern lives we are often not faced with the threat of being eaten or killed, but our bodies react the same way. Although some people may beg to differ, presenting to their boss can be scarier than being chased by a wolf!
Here are some tips to help when you feel the adrenaline rush:
1. Do 20 jumping jacks and 10 push ups
2. Go outside and sprint across the parking lot 4 times
3. Walk a few flights of stairs
4. If you have the time, take a 20 minute walk or jog around the block
If you cannot do anything physical, then I suggest some deep breathing exercises. My favorite was created by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s called the 4 - 7- 8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise. It’s very simple:
· Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
· Hold your breath for a count of seven.
· Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
· This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Weil says this exercise is a natural tranquilizer. It is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice. You can do it every day as much as you want. He suggests that you do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month. You can up it to eight breaths when you get into shape. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, don’t be concerned; it will pass.
The bottom line is that if you get even a little nervous before you speak publicly, realize that it’s a normal response. The real question is how you are going to deal with it. I suggest the next time you are doing a presentation and feel like you want to run away, then do it – just make sure you get back in time to present!