SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Feeling anxious about a big presentation at work or an upcoming job interview? Maryland Smith’s Tricia Homer suggests a seven-minute workout that can shake off nervous energy and help you focus and shine.
Nearly everyone gets nervous about public speaking, says Homer, director of business communication, master’s program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Preparation can go a long way toward easing that nervousness – having a polished slide deck, practicing your talking points, and psyching yourself up mentally. She suggests adding a vocal and physical warm-up to that preparation too.
“Warming up gets you grounded in your body,” she says. “It gets you out of your own head so you’re not obsessing over the bullet points of your presentation. Not only does a warm-up routine help with anxiety, it also gets your body and voice ready to take the stage.”
Homer, who teaches business communication and coaches MBA and specialty master's students, says speaking anxiety is normal. “I even get nervous about it, and this is what I do for a living,” she says.
With a theater background, she knows the actor’s warm-ups that work best. Homer encourages a full 30-minute physical and vocal warm-up before public speaking, but says the routine can be condensed into just seven minutes.
The 7-Minute Public Speaking Warm-Up
About 10-20 minutes before you’re schedule to present, close your office door or find a private space. Then, spend one minute on each of the following techniques.
1. Deep Breathing: “It all starts with breath,” says Homer. “Deep breathing lowers your blood pressure. It improves your heart rate. It activates your nervous system. If you’re not breathing, that’s when you talk too fast, ramble and say too many filler words, like ‘um’ and ‘ah.’ Say what you have to say, then breathe, then say the next thing you have to say rather than filling the space with an ‘um.’” Plant both feet on the floor. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Fill your diaphragm, try to hold your breath as long as you can, then push the air out. Breathe slowly.
2. Resonance Tone-Ups: Your voice can resonate in your nose, throat, chest or deeper in your diaphragm, says Homer. Ultimately, you want it to resonate deeply in your chest. “We think of it as tone, and people respond better to a deeper toned voice. You can change your voice just by where the sound is resonating.” To warm up your voice’s resonance, push sound from your nose down to your belly to wake up all of these points of resonance so when you present, you have access to your full range. This also will prevent you from sounding monotone.
3. Projection Arm Swings: Swing your arm around and at the bottom of the swing, use your voice to say “ha!,” like the sound is a softball and you’re pitching it across the room. This helps you visualize the sound of your voice traveling in space, says Homer.
4. Facial Warm-ups: You can physically rub your face, make funny faces, open and close your mouth, stick out your tongue – anything to limber up the muscles in your face and prepare you to speak.
5. Tongue Twisters: Recite tongue twisters to practice your articulation. Any will do, including the classic, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” or “red leather, yellow leather.” Or short and simple: “Unique New York.”
6. Muscle Isolations: Tense up different parts of your body and release. This will help you relieve the tension you’re already holding and help you relax.
7. Stretches: Loosen up and do whatever you need to do to physically get your body warm to be able to express yourself with your hands, to appear comfortable moving around as you present, and to avoid pacing or other physical ticks.
What if you don’t even have seven minutes? You can also use quick physical techniques to prepare for on-the-spot speaking, like managing that heart-racing anxiety of asking a question to a speaker in front of a large audience, says Homer.
Adapt the warm-up to tensing your muscles, a deep inhale/exhale and release. “I squeeze the muscles in my toes, take a deep breath and then speak.”
Yawning is also a useful technique, Homer says, because you’re letting warm air in, you’re breathing deeply, and you’re opening your mouth wide so it’s warming up the muscles in your face. “If you only have 15 seconds, let out a really big yawn,” she says.
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