Stress Reduction for Personal Development Speakers

An Article By Jeanie Marshall

Abraham Lincoln on Success

Stress reduction in all situations is essential for your wellbeing and success. For most public speakers, stress is a key factor to manage for confidence and effectiveness. I think that, in particular, Personal Development professionals need to be attentive to keeping stress at a minimum because that inspires the audience to follow their suggestions.

Whether you're a professional public speaker, entrepreneur, radio show host or guest, trainer, webinar or teleconference presenter, consultant, manager, or business expert, it's quite normal to experience stress. A little stress keeps you alert; too much stress can be counterproductive. No matter how competent you are or want to appear, you don't need to be perfect. It's more important to be comfortable than to be too polished. You are, after all, human.

You may find that your stress levels change from the time you accept the speaking assignment, during your preparation, throughout the presentation, and after it is all done. You can notice your own patterns, without over-analyzing.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind before, during, and after you present that can keep your stress at a manageable level. Many of these ideas are common sense to remind you what you already know. Other ideas are intended to encourage you. Still others may be ideas you haven't thought about before, especially if you're new to making presentations. Individually or collectively, they can assist you in your stress reduction.

Be Prepared.
Research. Review. Or start from scratch. Do whatever you need to prepare yourself to be as successful as possible when you present. If you're new to presenting to groups, you may find greater confidence in being over-prepared. As you become more confident and experienced, you'll find your proper balance for being prepared and being spontaneous. The more you have already embodied the wisdom or knowledge you want to share, the more your presentation will flow.

Know Your Audience.
In advance, discover as much as possible about what your audience needs or wants from you. Group size and familiarity with the individuals determine whether you rely on general demographics, seek specific information, or conduct a thorough needs assessment. During the presentation, continue to be open to learning about your audience. Call individuals by name, if possible and practical. When you know that your participants might be under a lot of stress, you can incorporate stress reduction activities into the presentation.

Imagine and Hold Your Dream

Visualize Success.
The preparation phase is a powerful time to begin visualizing the success of your presentation. You can do this in brief visualizations, a few minutes a time. Imagine yourself in the place you will be for the presentation (a banquet hall, training room, your desk for a teleconference, a board room. etc.), feeling confident, speaking to a group of eager participants. Creative visualization can enliven you and be a powerful stress reduction technique.

Practice with Stress Reduction in Mind.
Ask friends or colleagues to be an audience so you can rehearse. A mirror, tape recorder, and video equipment are useful tools for practice. Even experienced presenters practice. Try different ways to gesture and express ideas. Even if your presentation is a webinar or teleconference so that no one can see your gestures, the gestures are transmitted as naturalness if the gestures are natural. Experiment with your voice: volume, pitch, cadence all contribute to your own calmness as a presenter. As much as you might practice, be certain that you're spontaneous and fully present when you're with the group.

Develop Positive Attitude.
Be positive about yourself as a general practice. Embody and feel good about the principles you want to express. When you feel good about yourself and your subject matter, it comes across. If you don't feel good about yourself or your subject, by all means, make believe you do! Sensitive participants will easily spot when you're pretending, so this strategy has its limitations. The best approach is to be truly congruent about being positive and feeling good. You may need to start with a decision to feel good. Stress reduction is a natural benefit of a positive attitude.

Be Confident.
Show you have confidence. Not over-confidence, confidence. If you're quaking inside, be intentional about whether to show it or not. It can work to your detriment or benefit. Some audiences will rise to the occasion and embrace you lovingly when you're vulnerable. Other audiences will lose confidence in you if you have no confidence in yourself. Know your audience. Know yourself. Build your self confidence on a regular, daily basis.

Take a Deep Breath, Release it Slowly, and Relax.
Breathe deeply to replenish the oxygen in your body. This calms you, helps you to think more clearly, and is one of the most effective stress reduction techniques because it requires nothing outside yourself. This is especially effective just before your presentation. Even during your presentation, you can practice this without anyone knowing. In certain groups, you can lead participants in a relaxation exercise, which will, in turn, relax you. Just noticing the dynamics of your breath is empowering.

Become a Regular Meditator.
Regular meditators tend to be generally calmer in situations that others find stressful. Meditation yields benefits far beyond more successful presentations and stress reduction. Many resources at this web site can support you in establishing a regular meditation practice.

Let others know you're pleased to be with them. A smile can connect you with others at the heart level. When people experience your genuine smile, they tend to smile back. Presenting to a group of smiling participants is more fun than the alternatives. Your smile also transmits over the radio or telephone, especially when it's a genuine smile from the inside. A smile is one of the most effective and natural stress reduction actions you can take.

Make Your Opening and Closing Memorable.
First impressions are long remembered, as are your final words. Of course, you want the middle to be solid as well. Make a definite opening and closing. Some presenters give their audience permission to leave as the session nears the end; however, that dissipates the energy. If you're losing your audience (emotionally, mentally, or physically), pause, stop, change directions, or take a break, so that you maintain the integrity of the group. Instead of letting your participants gradually leave the group near the end, have a definite closing and then offer to stay to answer questions.

Involve Your Participants in the Content and Process.
Participants benefit more by being engaged. There's an art to having active participants while staying true to the purpose of your presentation. Depending on many variables, including your purpose, group size, type and length of presentation, kind of information, your decision about how and when to get your participants actively involved is crucial. Many large group presenters ask questions so participants can raise their hands or stand up to say yes or no. Suggesting 2-4 participants discuss something briefly among themselves energizes the room and gives talkers a chance to talk. This gets the attention off you for a few moments, which can be a stress reduction technique.

Balancing Participation and Presentation.
First, be clear with yourself about the extent you want participation; then, be clear with your participants. Once you invite involvement, you can get more participation than you expect, want, or need. Managing questions in the middle of a planned presentation requires diplomacy. If you don't want any questions until the end, tell them the rules at the beginning. Taking a question and then saying you "don't have time" is not good form, iniviting stress and resistance from the audience. Making participants feel that they've made a mistake in asking a question leaves them feeling disempowered. Balance your needs and their needs as individuals and the needs of the group as a whole.

Focus on Your Relevant Key Points.
As a Personal Development professional, you need to be clear about your purpose and craft your talk so that it's based on the proper key points. Trying to present too much information or too many facts will likely make you -- and your participants -- uneasy. If your purpose is to inspire, present a model for change, or engage your participants to inner reflection, your key points need be congruent, clear, and meaningful. Personal stress reduction, audience stress reduction, and information streamlining often correlate with each other.

Talk in a Conversational Style.
Use natural speech. If you must refer to notes, don't read them! It's better to stumble over a few words than to insult your audience by reading, unless you must make statements in a precise way. If you use overhead slides, avoid just reading those, also. Your slides should be bullet points, not paragraphs. If you know your material, you don't have to read it. Of course, if you're quoting someone directly or must convey lots of numbers, reading is acceptable. If you're talking about personal development techniques, you want to be talking in a personal way.

Use Physical Activity to Ease Tension.
Move around, especially if your session is lengthy. If you're making a seated presentation, move naturally in your chair, without squirming. If appropriate, stand at a flip chart or chalkboard or screen when you're presenting information. If you're presenting to a large group of people who have been sitting for a while (for example, if you're one of many presenters), find ways to get them to move around, interact with each other, or actively participate in a writing assignment. A benefit to keeping things moving is further stress reduction for all concerned.

Anticipate Needs and Respond Calmly.
Consider in advance the questions or unique situations that might be stimulated by the material you're presenting. Ask yourself what you wanted or needed to know when you were first exposed to this topic. While you cannot be prepared for every possible question or variation on the topic, you can organize for most. Stay cool when problems occur. And, remember, you can say you don't know the answer if you really don't.

Accept Responsibility for Your Own Behavior, Not Others' Behavior.
You're responsible for all that you do and say. Be authentic, genuine, and in integrity. You're not responsible for the behavior of your participants. The more you can be accepting of who they are and what they do, the more you give them a space to grow, to fail, to be successful, to be rude, to be profound, to be themselves. If you're overly concerned with others' ways of being, the more you'll incorporate unnecessary stressors. And, if your topic is directly related to personal development, you'll be demonstrating behavior that's in opposition to your message.

Explore with the Butterfly

Seek and Accept Opportunities to Make Presentations.
Keep at it! The more you present, the better you get and the more confidence you gain. If your subject matter is particularly complex, use situations that are comfortable or familiar to prepare yourself for more challenging audiences. TeleSeminars, Internet radio shows, and webinars are very popular ways to present to groups. Local groups often are in need of speakers. Practice is one of the most valuable approaches to stress reduction.

Finding positive aspects of presentation can minimize your stress and facilitate your success. Above all, enjoy your experiences!

Copyright © 2008 Marshall House. All rights reserved. Jeanie Marshall, Personal Development Consultant and Coach, has developed Empowering Personal Development at to encourage you on your path. This article is not available for republication without express written permission.


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