How to Speak Under Pressure
You have a presentation coming up.
People with more experience and authority than you make up the audience.
You put your slides together, you read the slides over and over in your head.
The time comes to present,
You worry about performing well,
“What if people can tell I’m nervous and I make a fool out of myself?”
“Will I remember all the important lines?”
“Will I do a good enough job?”
“What if I blank out?”
The presentation starts,
You feel the butterflies in your stomach,
Your voice is shakier than it usually is,
You start talking faster than you usually do,
You start talking,
It feels like an eternity,
“I can’t wait for this to be over.”
“What are people thinking.”
“Did I say everything correctly on that last slide?”
“Oh crap, why is my boss checking his phone?”
“Who is this new person who just walked into the room”
“Can they tell my legs are shaking?”
Aaaaaaand BAM! You hit a wall.
“Where was I?”
“What was I talking about.”
You forget. You lose track. You blank out.
Worst. Possible. Scenario.
The embarrassment, the humiliation.
“I look like an incompetent fool in front of my entire leadership department!”
Does this sound familiar?
Let’s figure out why this happens.
Imagine your brain is a harddrive with a storage of 100GB - it has limited capacity of the information it can hold.
When you practice for the presentation, you fill up the 100GB with information relating to the content, what to say, how to say it etc.
This is why when you rehearse it at home or in front of friends, you do just fine.
When you present in front of superiors, people of authority…
When you have a ‘do or die’ situation where you must succeed…
When you start thinking of what people are thinking, how you’re performing in the moment…
Guess what your brain’s doing?
“Hey, we have 100GB of information that we need to deliver this content effectively… but now you’re telling me I have to think about all these extra things?! …
Well, we have to free up some capacity to accommodate these thoughts!”
*Delete Delete Delete*
Your brain’s storage capacity to present has gone from 100% to 40% to now accommodate for these new thoughts and concerns that have popped up in your head that now take up space in your brain.
In the real world: Blanking out, not knowing what to say.
The frustrating thing is: The moment you finish presenting… it all comes back to you…
Why? Because your brain now once again has the capacity to retrieve that information instead of thinking and analyzing about your performance and what everyone else is thinking of you.
So how do you prevent this from happening?
Take my client, Ali, a senior technology executive, struggled to muster the courage to speak in front of the board of directors for decades.
He would prepare rigorous notes, memorize his lines. It would only make the pressure even worse because now he had to remember everything he wrote down.
I gave him the following steps to follow and not only did he overcome his fear, but he told me “Yasir, now that my focus has shifted away from me and onto my audience, I can actually see how big of an impact my words have on them and I’m beginning to enjoy the process! I never thought this was possible.”
He also wound up being promoted to a VP of Technology role at his organization.
So let’s go through the steps.
1- Make sure a lack of preparation is never the reason you’re performing poorly; know your material inside out. Rehearse it out loud at least 10 times from start to finish.
I don’t mean prepare the slides 2 hours before you’re supposed to present it. I mean say the entire thing out loud so you can hear it. Preferably, record it on your phone and watch it back.
If you’re not doing this, this is like writing a song backstage and going out in front of 100,000 people and expecting to sing it well … yeah, not happening.
2- Being nervous is inevitable. Accept it. Don’t think about why it happens, how to get rid of it.
It is not a bad thing, it is not an unusual thing, it is simply part of the experience of being a human being.
Expect it to happen in the 10 minutes leading up to a presentation and upto 90 seconds after your presentation starts. It will automatically go away.
Say this to yourself as many times as you need to: Feeling nervous is THE EXPECTED response - not an UNUSUAL response.
WARNING: The only reason it won’t go away in 90 seconds is if you keep asking yourself ‘Why is this happening?’ or thinking ‘I wish this wasn’t happening to me!’
If you try to analyze why you’re feeling an emotion why trying to deliver a speech, you’ll be trapped in an endless cycle of anxiety instead of just allowing yourself to feel the emotion, and letting it fizzle out as it always does.
It is not the situation of speaking to an audience that makes you nervous, it is your perception of what it means that makes you nervous.
3- Bring all of your awareness to your words, pay close attention to every single word that comes out of your mouth as if you can see the words in the air that comes out of your mouth as you speak.
This will allow you to be so focused on your speech that your mind won’t have the capacity to think of anything else, including anxiety or other people’s judgment.
4- Slow down. Everything. Your speech, your body movement, your eye contact. Not just so you sound like a better speaker, but so you give yourself time to breathe, relax, and allow the nerves to spread out. You will be absolutely shocked at how big of a difference it makes.
5- You WILL start to get some negative, self-judgemental thoughts as you begin speaking. Instead of thinking “Oh, why is this happening again!” - Think “Oh, it’s my mind trying to do that thing again. I know its tricks. I’m going to acknowledge that I know what it’s trying to do and go back to my presentation.”
The more times you do this, the more power you take away from it.
Remember: Your thoughts are not instructions. Your thoughts are not true. Just like there was no boogeyman under your bed when you were a kid, there’s no evil boss looking for an excuse to humiliate you in front of the team.
Your thoughts are meant to help you survive, and a big percentage of the time, they overestimate the danger you’re in.
This process is simple but it requires time, and consistent practice. We have done this exact same process with more than 200 clients, and it has worked EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.
I sincerely hope this helped you, try this out and email me back and let me know how it worked out for you, and I might just share your story with my audience!
When you’re ready to work with my team to become a truly confident speaker you can apply for a free trial coaching session here.