JUST BREATHE: The Woman in Chair #2
I recently attended an event at the Lucky Lab, one of my favorite local bars in Portland, OR. I was there to watch a client that I'm coaching. She was among a group of about ten engineers and architects who were doing PechaKucha (basically presentations of 20 slides @ 20 seconds each).
The first 5 speakers were seated stage right. As the first speaker began, I noticed a well-dressed woman seated in chair #2. She was the next presenter. As she waited for her turn to take the stage, she tore up her fingernails one by one. She squirmed in her seat. She swung her legs beneath it.
When the speaker finished, the woman in chair #2 leapt up. She took the mic and began to speak rapid-fire style. She talked so fast that no one could understand her. I didn't time her, but would guess she was covering about 175 to 200 words a minute. That's crazy fast.
I wanted to seek her out after the event to help in some way. Unfortunately she slipped out the door and headed to the bar. My advice would have been pretty simple. Breathe ... just breathe. Doing a few simple exercises before you speak will not only calm the nerves, but ensure you're ticking along at about 125 words a min (about the right pace for most speakers).
Here's what to do when you're in chair #2:
Put both feet on the ground and sit up straight.
Inhale to a count of 4. Exhale to a count of 4. Breathe through your nose.
If this pattern is too easy, try a count of 6 or any of the options listed here.
To be honest, it doesn't really matter which breathing exercise you use. If you know you're extra nervous before speaking, focus on breath beforehand. It will slow down your pace so you can convey your message in a more thoughtful manner. It will also help you master "the pause," a hugely underrated trick that's part of the exceptional speaker's repertoire.