Managing to speak

2008

Here are some of the most common phrases people use to describe how they feel when asked to give a presentation.

  • I'd rather die than make a speech.
  • My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
  • I turn into a quivering mass.
  • I come over all funny.
  • I go weak at the knees.
  • My legs turn to jelly.
  • It brings me out in a cold sweat.
  • My hands start shaking.
  • I can't think straight.
  • Everything goes blurry.
  • It makes my head feel all tight and tingly.
  • My mind goes blank.
  • It does my head in.
  • I go stiff with panic.

The nub of all their problems lies in the last statement. Panic - an ancient reflex designed to make us sink to the floor and act as dead until imminent danger has passed – holds our bodies in its grip.

But how does it get that grip?

To feign death, breathing must be suspended. For this to happen the diaphragm must be jammed at its topmost position near your armpits. Air being inhaled gets crammed into the narrow confines of the upper chest above the lungs and prevents them from integrating oxygen into the blood stream.

If nothing is done to release this impasse you will sink to the ground as surely as a boat overly filled with ballast would sink to the ocean floor.

How on earth can we overcome so primal an impulse before it fells us and return to normal?

The most crucial action we must take is to BREATHE OUT!

Squeeze as much breath out of an open mouth as we possibly can so that the diaphragm is forced to drop to its anti panic level around the waist line and draw fresh air down with it so that the oxygen it contains can pass through the lungs, enter the bloodstream, flow swiftly to the brain and kick start normality.

Whenever you feel yourself getting lacking in energy - after sitting at the computer mulling over a complicated or tedious problem or when you feel out of breath because you've dashed for the train or climbed a lot of steps or run to keep fit during the lunch hour the best thing you can do is to release all the stale, old stuff your body has denuded of oxygen and only then take in a deep breath.

That fresh air intake once down inside you, will definitely help you better manage whatever is next on your agenda even if it is a presentation.

There were other physical problems mentioned in the list we started with. How can we alleviate them? Well, shaking limbs, a wobbly body and blurred vision will all be considerably alleviated by the extra oxygen sent to the brain but it will help even more if the different parts of our bodies know exactly what they are supposed to be doing as we give a presentation.

All bendy parts of limbs should be kept flexible. Knees and ankles should never be stiff but always springy and ready to move us around. Elbows should never be held tight against our chests. If they are, how can the rib cage expand so we can breathe freely?

Wrists and knuckles need to be ready to move easily so that our hands can easily push back our specs when they've slipped down our noses; pick up a glass and drink from it and put it back down without spilling is contents; hold onto and direct a laser pointer; switch throat mikes on and off; click the relevant laptop buttons; create gestures that makes specific points; write on overheads or flip charts and - as soon as we've finished speaking and are out of the room text a response to whoever's message was reverberating in our pockets as we spoke!

Feeling tight headed is always alleviated by correct breathing but it is often caused because we don't know our stuff sufficiently well or we're trying to fit too much information into the allotted time. Stuffing a quart into a pint pot - inevitably a tight squeeze - is likely to be the reason for the sweats too.

As for a dry mouth, I'm afraid that is par for the presentation course. But to get saliva flowing before you begin just close your lips and run the tip of your tongue vigorously in and out between your front teeth.

This can be done without anyone in your audience noticing you're doing it, but you'll notice that there is no way your tongue can stick to the roof of your mouth and as you breathe out with relief at that fact you can calmly utter the first words of presentation which you will definitely survive to live happily ever after.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.