Do you get nervous before giving a big presentation at work, or at the thought of having to speak in front of an audience, especially one that might include higher-level executives? Perhaps your heart rate accelerates, or your breathing becomes shallow. You might tremble or shake. Suddenly, a meeting room full of colleagues becomes a forest full of predators.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. About 73 percent of the population feels anxious when faced with public speaking, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. Humans are primal creatures, and when we feel stressed or threatened, our ﬁght-or-ﬂight response kicks into gear, prompting our adrenal glands to release adrenaline. While your body is performing the biologically correct response to a perceived threat, it’s not especially helpful when you want to appear cool, calm, and collected in a modern-day ofﬁce.
Yoga teacher Rebecca Pacheco, author of “Still Life: The Myths and Magic of Mindful Living,” often works with athletes and top-level executives to prepare them for high-stakes moments. She offers three accessible, fast tips for zapping pre-meeting jitters.
Tip 1: To focus
Pacheco recommends a one-minute meditation that she calls Mini Meditation. You can do this exercise anywhere—on the way to work, waiting for your turn to speak, in the bathroom before a presentation. First, focus on a key word that ﬁts your needs, such as conﬁdence or courage. Then, breathe in, and count to one. Breathe out, and say your chosen word. Do this until you get to ten, at which point you can stop, begin again, or let the counting dissolve and simply focus on your breath.
This practice works because it puts the body and mind in the same place at the same time, Pacheco says, rather than letting the mind race around in a state of stress or overwhelm. It also gathers our attention so that we can focus and make better decisions.
Meditation is not a performance-based activity, notes Pacheco, but it often improves our performance in many ways, including in our careers. “To excel at anything, we must pay attention,” she says.
Tip 2: To calm down
Perform a box-breath exercise. Envision a box with four equal sides that you will “frame” with breath: First, inhale for a count of four; then hold for a count of four; exhale for a count of four; finally, hold for a count of four to complete the box.
“This can be helpful in times of overwhelm, as it gives your mind a bit of a job, especially if you’re spiraling into what might happen or panicking,” Pacheco says. “It brings your heart rate down and helps decrease stress.”
Tip 3: To gain perspective
Pacheco encourages clients to “zoom out”—no, not the laptop kind. Instead, bring awareness to your physical body within its current space. First, focus on your body and its immediate surroundings. Maybe you’re sitting in a chair in your ofﬁce, near a plant, or looking out a window. Then, imagine you’re a director with a camera, panning slightly out; picture the outer perimeter of your body and the room you’re in. Next, pan out to your building or house, street, neighborhood, town, and so forth.
“When things are stressful, we get so granular that we can’t even react or understand the bigger picture. A birds’ eye view, or what I call the ‘witness,’ puts things in perspective,” Pacheco says. When you picture your small self as part of a much larger and vibrant whole, your immediate worries will feel less overwhelming by comparison.