You have just been asked to work on a project and present it to your entire team at the next meeting. The project itself is exciting, but speaking in front of a group is not your forte. As the day approaches, the tension and self-doubt in your mind keep swelling until you’re a nervous wreck. Sounds familiar?
Anxiety before a public speech or big meeting (especially one where you will be speaking) is natural. Here’s how to alleviate the anxiety and get ready for your big day.
Before the meeting:
- Practice well
Preparation for the meeting or presentation should begin well in advance. Gather as much information as you can and prepare notes. Once your content is ready, practice it. Try different strategies and techniques in front of the mirror or a family member. Try modulating your volume or tone and using different body language, and ask the listener for feedback.
Practicing your content improves your facilitation skills as you try to find the best way to deliver your point, and helps you pace your time. Further, it develops your comfort with your content.
The idea is to be thorough and confident and minimise mistakes. You don’t need to memorise what you have to say or know the answer to all questions. Advanced and detailed preparation shows your dedication and helps ease last-minute nervousness.
2. Get organised
Before the meeting begins, double-check that you have everything you need. This includes checking the internet connection and speed, charging your electronics, and ensuring you have stationery, such as notebooks or pens. Keep a bottle of water to stay hydrated.
3. Tune into your nervousness
Notice what you are feeling and set aside a few minutes before the meeting to work through it. Nervousness or anxiety manifests physically (feeling fidgety, sweaty or shaky), emotionally (feeling unfocussed, scared), or mentally (thoughts that are unhelpful or anxious). Recognising how you experience your nervousness helps in finding ways to address it. Some common ways of working through anxiety are:
- Practicing breathwork, a grounding exercise or visualisation– These activities signal safety to the body and help reduce excess adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Talking to someone who is encouraging – Receiving support is always a wonderful experience, especially before a big event. This facilitates release of a oxytocin, a hormone that helps reduce stress levels.
- Self-talk - Having negative thoughts about yourself before a meeting is normal. These self-critical statements may work in the short-term but are shown to cause more fear in the long run. Instead, reframe each critical thought as Positive Automatic Thought (PAT) or an affirmative sentence, like ‘I will do my best’, ‘I have the capacity to take feedback’, ‘Making mistakes is normal’ – anything that helps you build confidence.
- Distract yourself: Going on a short walk or listening to music is a good way to distract your mind from obsessively worrying about the meeting.
During the meeting:
- Command the room
As a presenter, you can facilitate the meeting in a way that is most comfortable for you. For example, you can ask people to park their questions and take them only in intervals or at the end. This can help you maintain your flow. If you notice distractions, you can call for a short break or remind everyone to focus.
2. Make notes
Writing things down can be helpful to keep track of the meeting’s flow. If you are presenting, you can ask someone else to make notes for you. Take a few moments at the end of the meeting to summarise for yourself what needs to be done next and note down the action items.
3. Take a pause
Whether you’re feeling anxious, unable to answer a question or made a mistake, it’s okay to ask for a minute and gather yourself. It is a sign of strength to be able to recognise how you are feeling and acknowledge that. Apologising for a mistake or taking a moment to breathe can help you think clearly.
After the meeting
- Appreciate yourself
It’s over! No matter how the presentation may have gone, you went through it – and that is important. So celebrate that fact and appreciate the effort it took on your part.
2. Review your performance
Take time to evaluate your overall performance. This means assessing what you did well, as what could have been better. Try and consciously avoid feedback that is too harsh or not relevant. You can also take feedback from someone you trust for a different perspective.
3. Go over your next steps
Complete the loop by deciding how to proceed further. You may want to start working on your noted action items or send a follow-up or closing email summarising the main points that were discussed.
Once it’s done, keep going. Follow up on your own performance review and use opportunities in the workplace to observe others during big meetings, to keep practicing your skills, and change the way you perceive stressful meetings.
And finally, we leave you with some useful links to calm down during stressful moments.
Relaxing music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqREptKgR2E&t=107s
Walking meditation (walking before the meeting): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwbRERIzt6c&t=146s
Self-appreciation (after the meeting): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i2zpirOwhI