Nervous Before a Presentation? Check for Counterfeit Breathing

January 25, 2010

You are in a meeting, anticipating your turn to stand and present before a large group.  It’s natural to feel the jitters.  The speaker before you drones on, and you feel your heart begin to race.  What can you do to settle your nerves?

Both friend and speech coach will give the same advice:  take a few deep breaths.  It’s good advice as far as it goes, but this advice can lead to danger.  Did you know there is such a thing as counterfeit deep breathing—the type makes things worse rather than better?

To make sure you know the difference, try the following:  Stand in front of a mirror, and take some rapid deep breaths.  You should see your shoulders move, and you’ll know you are engaged in counterfeit deep breathing.  When the shoulders and upper chest move, the breathing is quick and shallow.  This type of breathing is counterproductive when you are nervous. 

Slow, deep breathing calms your nerves, delivering a full load of oxygen to your body.  Practice like this:  Place your hands on your rib cage.  Breathe in through your nose, directing your breath until you feel your ribs expand like a tire inflating.  Fill yourself up with air, and then slowly exhale through your mouth.  Take another breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  You’ll notice in the mirror that your shoulders are no longer moving.  Keep your shoulders relaxed as you fill your body with oxygen.

Nervous before a presentation?  Take some deep breaths.  Just make sure you use the authentic kind.  Don’t be fooled by counterfeit breathing.


Avoid this Stupid Mistake #14: Step on Someone’s Story

January 23, 2010

Here’s the Situation:  Okay, I was complaining.  I was describing a frustrating situation at work with a professional friend.  I had had a rough day and  needed to vent  before I dusted myself off for the next day.

Here’s the Stupid Mistake:  I’d barely finished my story before my friend began with a story of her own.  She delved into details of her own challenges and frustrations at work.  I’ve heard the behavior described this way:  “She stepped on my story.”  As a result, I felt “cut off.”  At the end of the encounter, I felt worse than at the beginning–because my friend did not listen to me or offer understanding.

People step on the stories of their conversation partners all the time.  For example, we step on stories of success, failure, frustration, illness, relationships, etc.  At minimum, this mistake makes for an unpleasant conversation because the person who initiates the conversation doesn’t feel listened to.  If you make a habit of stepping on stories, you run the risk of being judged insensitive, self-centered, and even narcissistic.

Here’s the Solution: A good listener allows a speaker to fully finish his or her story, acknowledging both the details of the story and the feeling behind it.  Once the original speaker feels acknowledged and understood, it can be appropriate for the listener to share a similar story of his or her own.  This builds a common ground–but only once the original story has had the opportunity to stand on its own.

Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #13

January 11, 2010

Here’s the Situation:  About a year ago, I changed my route to work, causing me to pass through a small town at least twice  per day.  One day, I stopped to browse in a lovely antique store.  As I entered the store, the owner was sharing a relaxing chat with a friend in the rear of the store.

Here’s the Stupid Mistake:  The owner didn’t get up, greet me, or ask me if I was looking for something in particular.  In fact, she ignored me completely.  Although I found a few items that interested me, I wasn’t inclined to interrupt a conversation to ask for information or a price.  I felt both irritated and invisible.  Although I love antiques and have passed this antique store at least 1000 times in the last year, I’ve never gone inside again.  I am decidedly resistant to this store–I have no receptivity to the store’s charms.

Here’s the Solution:  No matter what  situation you find yourself in, receptivity to your ideas is key to your success.  Whether the situation involves sales, a training class, a meeting, a networking  event, or you are speaking  from a large stage, the people in the room want to be acknowledged.  If you are in charge of a meeting, or the speaker at an event, go out of your way to welcome people, respect their time and let them know you understand their frustrations. Even when you have no leadership responsibilities in a situation, make the first move to introduce yourself to others. 

It might seem like a simple thing, but a gracious greeting can open others up to be receptive to your proposals and your products.  A  little investment here will  go a long way to increasing your persuasive powers.