Photo: Mariya Georgieva
You know how when certain people enter a room, they command the attention of everyone they interact with? We want you to be that person in the boardroom and at the cocktail party.
Here’s how to do it.
The secret to handling nervousness is this: instead of fighting it off or distracting yourself, acknowledge that you’re nervous and feel it thoroughly. That will free up your mind to actually focus on the presentation, instead of how you appear during the presentation. Admit you fear being judged, and move on.
Then practice. If something is familiar, it’s much less likely to make you nervous.
Marjorie Lee North wrote about nervousness and practice in an article on the blog for Harvard Professional Development.
“All people feel some physiological reactions like pounding hearts and trembling hands. Do not associate these feelings with the sense that you will perform poorly or make a fool of yourself. Some nerves are good. The adrenaline rush that makes you sweat also makes you more alert and ready to give your best performance.”
She adds, “the best way to overcome anxiety is to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Take the time to go over your notes several times. Once you have become comfortable with the material, practice—a lot. Videotape yourself, or get a friend to critique your performance.”
Shake hands properly and make eye contact
Make your first impression count when you get to the meeting. First impressions can be powerful.
Deborah L. Jacobs wrote about how you should start off with a proper handshake in a 2012 Forbes article.
“Most meetings start with a cordial handshake. Put out your full hand, avoiding the half-handed (and halfhearted) grip, which can feel like a cold fish. Shake firmly, but don’t make it a bone crusher. Maintain eye contact and smile as you greet your new potential contact,” Jacobs writes.
A sense of calm can go a long way. Mindfulness and meditation are reliable techniques that work for many people, and both are based on simply breathing.
Joshua Ehrlich, founder of the Global Leadership Council, wrote about coaching a woman to “improve her executive presence” at work in a 2011 Harvard Business Review article.
“Calm is the foundation of presence — a tall order for most busy executives. To maintain a peaceful center, Amy learned to use breath-awareness as a barometer of her anxiety. She was able to speed up and slow down intentionally without negatively impacting her clarity or relationships. No longer abrupt or impulsive, she could set boundaries, handle interruptions and ensure she had time to think under stress,” Ehrlich wrote.
Be aware of body language
Jennifer Cohen wrote about the power of body language in Entrepreneur. The hardest part, frequently, is not posing — which can look inauthentic — but instead learning to pay attention to your body and those of others and how they’re positioned.
“Like checking your rearview mirror, it’s vital to take stock of what isn’t in front of you in a conversation. What are they avoiding talking about? How are they holding themselves? Are they leaning forward? Are they drawing back or folding their arms and legs? Take these factors into account when you respond. And remember that this advice goes double for you. Like your expression and your gestures, your body language will communicate wordlessly with your audience,” Cohen writes.
The best body language for confidence is simple: good posture with shoulders back, looking people straight in the eye.
Get others to focus on you — not your slides
PowerPoint is the enemy of charisma. To command a room, you have to address the room.
Mary Rezek offers a tip to help people focus you while you’re giving a PowerPoint presentation in a recent Inc. article.
“When you really want the audience to focus, hit the ‘B’ key on your computer to blackout the screen. In Europe, this is the ‘N’ key. You’ll then become the center of the room — the visual. With all eyes and ears on you — the speaker — the audience is listening to you and not reading the slide,” Rezek writes.
Say it … but with feeling this time
This may seem obvious, but the key to being listened to is not to talk too much. Say what you need to say, keep your sentences short, and most importantly: end your sentences. Many people mutter or trail off, which makes you look or sound weak.
Diane Gottsman cautions against speaking in questions in a 2016 HuffPost article.
“Many people unwittingly turn an opinion or statement into a question by using ‘upspeak.’ For example: ‘Based on my research, our new marketing strategy will benefit our bottom line within months?’ Gottsman writes.
“Make it a point to own your words and speak with assurance,” she advises.
There are ways to get people to hear you out— just make sure you make an earnest effort to do the same for them and see their perspective as well.
This article was first published on June 21, 2017.