Deep Breaths: Tips to Feel Better About Your Public Speaking

Your heart is racing. Your breathing has become shallow and rapid. Your palms are sweaty. Your stomach hurts and you may even be shaking slightly. These physical symptoms can only mean one of two things: either you just had the realization that we are somehow already one full month into the new year, or you’re about to do some public speaking.

Jokes aside, physical symptoms such as these are common across all kinds of stressful situations. For many, they are especially common when required to speak in front of others. Even smaller meetings and one-on-one interactions can be all-too-common sources of stress. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to turn the tables.

In a recent GovLoop online training, viewable on demand here, actress and co-founder of Vital Voice training Casey Erin Clark shared some invaluable tips and strategies to help find and develop your professional voice to feel more comfortable in public speaking situations. One area that Clark gave particular attention was the physical element of the voice and how it plays a role in the quality of our speaking performances.

Take the Fight to Tension

Clark explained that the sound produced by our vocal cords is actually very small, and that the sound and quality of our voice comes from it resonating in our upper body. “Where we run into problems often is when tension gets added to the body,” Clark said. Carrying tension in our muscles can severely impact the sound of our voice and change its volume and clarity, making it quaver.

While involuntary muscle tension isn’t something we can control directly, there are certain techniques that can help reduce its severity. For instance, Clark recommends exercise as a stress reliever. Regular exercise is fantastic for managing general stress in one’s life, but Clark explained that, “The quickest way to manage the physical symptoms of nerves is to do something physical.” Clark explained that by engaging in physical activity before speaking, you can jumpstart your body. To do so, she suggested taking a quick walk around the block, or even doing some jumping jacks in the bathroom.

Destress to Impress

Another effective strategy is overall stress reduction. If you approach a public speaking situation already overwhelmed by stress in other spheres of your life, then that stress will carry over and affect your performance.

GovLoop has loads of resources available for how to tackle common stressful challenges that one might encounter in their professional careers. Check out these tips on handling topics like workplace conflict, burnout, productivity, interviews and more if you are struggling to find ways to reduce stress in your work life.

Don’t Forget About Muscle Memory

Practice is important, and while it might not always make perfect, it can get you much closer than you would be without it. Clark explained the importance of rehearsal in preparation for a public speaking event, and how a well-rehearsed presentation will result in a more fluid and natural performance, while both lowering stress and increasing your confidence.

As a rehearsal technique, Clark recommends using an outline of your key points rather than a word-for-word script. Clark explained that the strength of an outline is that, “It gives you the ideas that you want to convey and gives you the flexibility in between those ideas to make those adjustments.”

Breathe

As previously stated, nervousness is a natural response by the body to stressful situations. Unfortunately, sometimes the symptoms of this response can actually compound our stress and make it even more difficult to let go of tension. The prime example of this is our breath.

Clark explained that when we feel stressed or uncomfortable in a room, we subconsciously seek to take up as little space as possible. This leads to us shrinking up in our chairs and maintaining a rigid posture. It is very common for breathing to become shallow or to stop altogether when stressed.

To combat this phenomenon, Clark urged the following: “Let your butt be big.” By allowing yourself to loosen up and sit fully in your seat, you will allow your pelvis the foundation it needs to properly support your upper body. As a result, you will have the steady supply of air and regular breathing required to give your voice its full power and make yourself heard.

Nerves can be a challenge to manage, but by focusing on the physical mechanisms of your response to stress, you can begin to take back control and make your professional voice ring out clearly with confidence.