Your mouth goes dry. Your legs start to shake. The butterflies are fluttering in your stomach. It’s today. In ten minutes, you are going to stand up in a room full of 25 colleagues and give the report and findings of the last 6 months of work. Your boss is there. Her boss is there and his boss is there too. All the nights you’ve worked late, missing drinks with friends or skipping bedtime stories with your children. The extra work at weekends missing birthdays and barbecues, it all culminates in this 15 minute presentation. What if people don’t listen? What if I sound really boring? What if i go really high pitch or forget what I’m saying? What if my voice let’s me down?
These are common thoughts and feelings that nearly everyone has before they stand up to speak in public. Usually publicly speaking is a reserve or when the odds are quite high. Making a sale, feeding back to a board or making a speech at a Wedding. They are moments when we want to feel most connected to ourselves and our audiences. These are moments when we want to feel authentic and accessible. The pressure we put on ourselves to deliver a ground breaking speech worthy of an Oscar is incredibly high and often understandable.
Here are a few ideas to help you combat those nerves and feel ready to connect.
1. Breath. Breath. Breath and Breath again.
Those butterflies are more then just strange fluttering feelings. Those knots in your stomach are directly effecting your muscles that control your breath. Your diaphragm needs to be able to drop down into your torso like a parachute filling with air or a jellyfish moving through water. If you are finding that your stomach feels tight and uncomfortable or uneasy, the just take a few minutes to focus on your breath and think of it filling your body from the ground up.
2. Find your feet.
What are you feet doing? Are they providing a secure platform on which your body can rest upon? Are you rocking through your feet in an agitated manner? Or are you putting all your weight back into your heels?
Take a breath. Close your eyes if you can or it helps. Imagine you are stood on a sandy beach in barefoot. The sand is warm and golden and dry. It shifts to accommodate a footprint of each of your feet. Your toes, the balls of each foot , through the arches and back through the heel. Feel the sand supporting your weight and giving your foot as much contact with the ground as possible.
3. How am I stood?
Are you stood with your shoulders hunched forward. Are your legs as close far apart? Are your buttocks clenched? Are you tensing your jaw? Are you locking your knees?
Take a breath. Bring your feet to hip width apart, your knees soft. Imaging your have a light travelling all the way up your spine from your tailbone to your head. As the light passes through each vertebra, it creates warm pockets of light and space in between each one. From the tailbone, to the small of the back, up through the arch to the middle of the back. Up in between the shoulder blades, into the neck, head and beyond. Feel your shoulders and your buttocks gently letting go and dropping down the back of your body. Imagine the light travelling through your jaw creating space between your teeth.
4. Mind the the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.
Some students tell me they quite often trip over their words or under up feeling that they are rushing and enunciating badly. A good way to combat this is to look to give yourself time to warm up before a presentation. It could be your car on they way to work, or before you leave the house or in a quiet corner of your building. Tongue twisters are an excellent tool for getting you mouth and teeth moving. Tip is to not rush them and do lots of different ones. Take the time to really get your moth around the words. These exercises also help to move the sound forward to the front of the mouth. Try this one:
What a to-do to die today, at a minute or two to two;
A thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do.
For they’ll beat a tattoo, at twenty to two,
A rat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tattoo.
And a dragon will come when he hears the drum,
At a minute or two to two today, at a minute or two to two.
5. Breath. Again. Seriously.
I believe the number one tool to combatting nerves is to observe the breath. You will breath in and out until your die. Its a reliable mechanism and if you cultivate a positive mental attitude towards your breath it will support you back. Your breath needs space and respect to flourish. If your suck and out the in breath, the muscles which should support your stomach will be neglected or overworked. if you push the air out to hard, you’ll find that you run out of steam quickly and will suffer fatigue and vocal clumsiness.
Take your time. Observe the flow of breath in and out of your body. Only speak when you feel comfortable and assured by the certainty of breath.
Follow the link below to hear comedienne Jo Brand talk through dealing with nerves.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Writer and Theatre maker based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training or collaborating. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk