Having and following a preparatory ritual has proven a powerful tool for putting yourself in the best frame of mind for many kinds of activities. World-class professional boxer Manny Pacquaio prays in his ring corner before every fight as part of his emotional preparations. Tim Ferris, bestselling author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” listens to Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech each Monday morning to amp himself up for the week ahead. Before hitting the hay, some people take a warm bath, read a book, or listen to calming music to signal their bodies that it’s time to slow down and take a rest.
As a presenter or public speaker, having a pre-speaking ritual carries major performance-improving potential for you, too. In an interview with Oprah, world-renowned author and motivational guru Tony Robbins revealed the ritual of movements, incantations and affirmations he follows before taking the stage. In light of Mr. Robbins’ reputation as one of the best motivational speakers of all time, the rest of us presenters would do well to investigate further!
Here are some elements you might want to consider in building your own pre-presentation ritual, gathered from a number of successful speakers and presenters.
Take time to properly warm up your voice, and when it’s time to talk, you’ll sound stronger, more certain, more convincing and more articulate. Further, a good warm-up lets you communicate longer without experiencing vocal fatigue.
A few minutes before it’s time to speak, pick any tongue twister or complex sentence and pronounce each of its words slowly and carefully. Focus on forming each sound and syllable. Don’t rush. If you know there are certain words and sounds that give you trouble, be sure to include them in the routine. Do you have trouble with the “f” sound? Try repeating, “Flies fly but a fly flies.” Having a tough time with “s” and “sh”? Add “She sells seashells by the seashore” to the pre-speech lineup.
Diaphragmatic breathing is the technical term for taking slow, deep breaths, concentrating on using the diaphragm to do so. It’s a fine way to release tension – physical tension in the breathing and speaking apparatus, and emotional tension, too. Jittery, stage-frightened speaking is awful to experience, for speaker and audience alike. The good news is that diaphragmatic breathing can chase away the butterflies in your stomach and leave you feeling more refreshed and alert. (There’s even scientific evidence behind that claim.) So as part of your pre-speaking regimen, focus on slow, deep, full breathing. Feel your diaphragm rise and fall. Exhale all those negative energies and find yourself in a more relaxed state, ready to enjoy presenting.
Your face can “bottle up” a tremendous amount of tension. That’s something you definitely don’t need or want when it’s time to present. Here are some simple exercises to ease those muscles and release the anxious tension:
- Gently massage your face with your fingertips and hands – concentrate on the forehead, cheeks and chin.
- Make faces! Create exaggerated facial expressions, arching your eyebrows, wrinkling your nose, stretching your smile, closing your eyes tightly and so on. Try to give every muscle in your face a good stretch.
- Stretch your tongue, too. Push it out as far as you can, and press it against the roof of the mouth, the teeth and both cheeks. Then relax it completely.
Stretching the body can do wonders in terms of calming the body down and making you more comfortable and at ease. Rotate your neck, move your shoulders, stretch your arms and legs wide. Feel the energy flowing, ready to carry you right through your presentation.
A short visit to the rest room before the presentation lets you do two things. First, the obvious: attending to personal necessities. But second, it also allows you to do a quick and final check on your appearance – just in case something’s gotten out of place, or your professional, winning smile needs refreshing.
It might sound a bit cliché, but the power of self-affirmation is undeniable. Your inner voice always has an impact on your performance, so be sure it’s positive – boosting your confidence, banishing negative thoughts, and attracting what your heart desires. All this positivity doesn’t completely guarantee you won’t slip up, stutter, or forget some bit of your speech, but you’ll be far more prepared to take any such mishaps in stride, ride right over them and come out winning.
Do you have a favorite pre-speaking ritual that might make life easier for your fellow presenters? Share it in the comments below –and check what others have to say, too.