Exercises Before the Speech

A couple of hours before you go to the podium, you can do some general, mild exercises in a gym or in your room or go for a brisk, brief walk to reduce nervous energy.

There are also some specific exercises that will alleviate the symptoms of stage fright that can be practiced right before you go on. Actually, it is helpful for your long-term physical and mental conditioning if you practice some of these regularly, rather than waiting for the crisis of a speaking engagement.

Deep breathing can be a stress reliever or actually have the opposite effect. When you panic you may suddenly start breathing rapidly, either deeply or shallowly. The key to calming down is to take a deep inhaling breath that expands the stomach, not the chest, over a four-second period. Then hold it for the same amount of time, exhale for another four seconds, and finally, wait four seconds before inhaling again. A few minutes of doing this and you should feel relaxed.

How can I fix a voice that becomes squeaky under stress?

Tape-record part of your speech and practice keeping your normal tone in a range that sounds calm and collected. It also helps not to stress your vocal cords in the days before a speech. Putting on lip balm, chewing gum to stimulate saliva production right before you go on, and then sips of water at the podium (not too much) will keep the whole vocal apparatus in shape.

Stretching helps, too. Open your mouth as wide as possible, let your jaw just hang for a bit, and then take a deep yawn. Roll your head around 360 degrees a few times and then reverse the direction. Slump forward and let your arms hang, like a rag doll, shake yourself, and then stand tall and swing your arms from side to side. Stretch your arms as high as you can and stand on your toes.

Tightening each muscle in your body for a few seconds and then completely relaxing it has a tension-dissipating effect similar to using weights at the gym. You can start at your feet and move up to your face. For the shoulders, do some shrugs; for the chest, tighten the muscles of the armpits; for the back, first jut out your chest, then drop your head down. You will probably be surprised at how tense you are when you start — and how relaxed you feel just before you are going to speak.

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