How to control presentation nerves – with the technique that snipers use
When I was about 16, I recall my cousin declaring, with great concern, that she had nothing to worry about. Something was bound to go wrong, in her view.
But you’re either tense, crapping yourself or somewhere in between.
I speak from personal experience. I often do presentations and webinars to people on my Tips ‘n’ Tools list and beyond. I know my audience and they know me. Nevertheless, my heart’s pumping out the skin, the stomach starts doing back flips and food makes me wretch
As a performer, I can tell you that when actors worry when they don’t get nervous: they’re concerned that they don’t care enough about the role.
And adrenaline has benefits. It helps you crystallise your thinking, sharpen your reactions and focus your attention. You need it but not so much that you’re paralysed with terror.
The trick is to control the nerves rather than having them control you.
One of the best ways to do this is through Box Breathing – also called Trigger Breathing as soldiers and snipers use this method as it keeps their rifles steady so they don’t miss their targets. I’m presuming you won’t be sniping so we’ll keep to calling it Box Breathing. It’s been invaluable in helping me control my anxiety during auditions or presentations and I’ve gifted it to clients, who notice their increased calm in just a few minutes.
It’s not just about calming down…
Researchers conducted an experiment in Harlem, New York with 4-8 year olds to explore the relationship between Box Breathing and resilience.
They had the children lay on a rug with a cuddly a toy on their bellies, every day. Their little subjects would inhale for a count of three, watching the cuddly toy rise as their stomach’s expanded with the influx of air. Then, they’d hold their breaths for three counts and exhale for another three, watching the toy lower as they squeezed the air out.
Soon, Box Breathing became a habit for these cohorts and helped them to attain day-long focus and calm.
As the researchers followed the journeys of these children, they realised that those who regularly practised Box Breathing strengthened their pre-frontal cortex, increasing their ability to focus as well as resilience. This was a massive differentiator between those who didn’t practise such techniques: more than IQ and wealth, studies have shown that resilience is a reliable predictor for health and financial success.
I’m not saying that if you practise Box Breathing, you’ll be a millionaire who never even catches a cold, but it’s highly effective in reducing nerves and anxiety in both children and adults.
- Breathe in for 4 seconds
- Hold for 4 seconds
- Exhale for 4 seconds
You can increase the count at each stage to 7
Your Action Step:
Box Breathe (either as you’re walking around, sitting or lying down) whenever you feel anxious. This could be:
- during a conversation;
- before a presentation or pitch;
- while you’re waiting to speak, say, before you’re presentation while someone else is talking;
- before a meeting;
- whenever you’re anxious.