Think of the most boring presentation you endured. What did you walk away with? Maybe a few notes you scribbled—and soon misplaced. One or two points that meandered around your short-term memory. But they soon fizzled away.
You weren’t impacted, not in the slightest. In fact, you may have even felt depleted, exhausted, or irritated.
But what if you walked away from a presentation and were . . . energized?
You’d tell everyone you knew about what you learned. You’d become the presenter’s unofficial spokesperson.
That’s the difference energy can make in a presentation.
That’s what this post is about. Energy—and its role in presentations.
In our workshop, The Art of Skilled Presentations, we emphasize the three areas that work together to create memorable and impactful presentations: Mind, Body and Engagement. In Mind, we explore getting yourself into a good head space, overcoming fears and building confidence. In Body, we look at techniques for using your voice, gestures and movement to enhance your message. And in Engagement, we discover what you need to do to make a deep connection with your audience.
In this post, we will be looking at the topic of Mind. Specifically, we’ll look at how to harness your nervous energy and turn it into positive energy you can use to excite your audience.
Ready? Let’s go!
Negative energy comes from fear
Everyone fears public speaking. It’s our heritage from caveperson days. The problem is that our instincts are telling us we’re in danger when we stand at the lectern to give a presentation.
Our brain overreacts, assuming we’re in danger when we’re giving a presentation. You’re all alone—vulnerable! Everyone is watching you! You’re the proverbial deer in the headlights.
It’s called the stress response—also known as fight or flight. At Noble Edge, we call it brain hijack. Our brains evolved to help us survive in a world fraught with saber-tooth tigers and other imminent dangers. The number one priority for the early human mind was to look out for anything that might harm you—and kill it or run from it in the opposite direction.
Your heart races.
Your blood pressure spikes.
Your pupils dilate.
Your blood rushes to your extremities to foster escape or battle.
Basically, all bodily systems are working to keep you alive in what you’ve perceived as a dangerous situation.
This fear energy can cause you to freeze up or it can manifest itself in one or more nervous habits such as:
Pacing or swaying
Futzing with notes
Playing with rings, jewelry or change in a pocket
We’ve all seen presenters caught up in nervous energy. It’s excruciating. I once had a person in one of my presentation classes who would take off his watch and put it back on during his presentations. When we pointed it out, he denied it. We all had to convince him of the truth. He was under the influence of nervous energy. The nervous action was his body’s way to calm him down.
So, what do we do instead?
Shake it out: Reduce the nervous energy from your body
Take the nervous energy that is manifesting itself in nervous behaviors and put it to good use. Transform it into positive energy.
First, let’s reduce the nervous energy by sending it out of our bodies. There are a number of moving exercises that will help you do this:
Stretch your arms to the ceiling
Swing your arms and legs
Stretch your neck, rotate your head
Roll your shoulders
Stand on your tip toes
Roll your shoulders
Shake your hands, like you’re shaking water off your fingers
Jump up and down (gently)
Sound silly? Trust me, they work. These techniques, used by professional speakers and actors around the world, will help to reduce the energy in total. Now you’re ready to leverage the remaining nervous energy into confidence, focus, and enthusiasm.
The key? Your breath.
Breathe it in: Calming your nervous system
Proper breathing releases neurochemicals. It’s called the Relaxation Response. (For more details on the myriad of benefits of deep breathing, check out an excellent article: 21 benefits of deep breathing backed by scientific studies.) When we’re scared or nervous, we take shallow breaths, in our upper chest. Or we hold our breath. Neither of these is your friend.
Learning how to breathe correctly helps focus your mind. Breathing, when it’s done right, brings oxygen into our blood—and then into our brain.
The key to engaging the Relaxation Response of breathing is to breathe from the diaphragm, a series of muscles at the base of your lungs. Upon inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and flattens and the chest cavity enlarges. This contraction creates a vacuum, which pulls air into the lungs.
Give this a try:
Lay down on the floor, on your back. Put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest. The goal is to not move the hand on your chest when you’re breathing. Concentrate on pushing your diaphragm out as you inhale deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe in on a count of 4, then exhale to a count of 6 or 7. Practice this for a few minutes at a time. Once you know how to focus using your diaphragm, practice this same technique standing up. Soon, you’ll be able to do this type of breathing more automatically.
Studies have shown that this kind of deep breathing signals your nervous system to relax. Now you’re in a good space to let your positive energy flow out and infect your audience.
Transform it: Connecting with your audience with positive energy
In future blogs, I’ll be showing you specific techniques using your body language to engage more effectively with your audience. Here’s a tip to get started on the right foot.
A great way to start to reduce your fears and change your energy is to begin by smiling and welcoming everyone.
Think about meeting someone new. You smile and say hello or hi and something like, “it’s nice to meet you.” This same transaction should happen when presenting.
As you walk up to the stage, the front of the room, or merely stand up from where you are seated, I want you to smile. Look at your audience. Say, “Hello, everyone,” or “Welcome,” or “Thank you,” if someone has introduced you. You can continue with “thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to share with you . . .”
By verbally acknowledging and welcoming the audience, you immediately create a safety zone for yourself. A connection. You’re not alone. You’re all together. You shift the energy of fear that says, “it’s all about me” to a positive energy that says, “I’m with you.” That creates safety. And safety helps us relax and be at ease. (See: Moving from ME to WE when making a presentation.)
With our nervous energy subsided, our positive energy and excitement about our topic can come through. Beginning with a positive greeting sets the foundation for a more engaging experience when speaking on any topic and it can profoundly affect your energy and the energy of your audience in a positive way.
There’s almost nothing more enjoyable than listening or engaging with someone who is genuinely excited about a subject. Their energy infects us. We then redirect that energy back to them. It’s a perfect cycle of positive feelings.
You can learn to harness nervous energy and transform it into positive energy that will take your presentation skills to the next level. Just remember the three steps: Shake it out, breathe it in and transform it.
Want to learn more? Check out NobleEdge’s The Art of Skilled Presentations training. This dynamic presentation skills training brings together theatre arts and human psychology to reduce anxiety, build confidence and move your audience to action.
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Marie Tjernlund is the Co-founder and President of NobleEdge Consulting. As an accomplished executive coach, certified Conflict Dynamics Profile® facilitator, and a professional performer, Marie brings her positive energy and skills to clients around the world. You can contact her at Marie@NobleEdgeConsulting.com.