How to Reduce Tension Just Before Your Presentation or Speech

Performing in front of others can be daunting, however experienced or confident you are. Tension easily builds up in the neck and shoulders and the pulse rate increases. All of these things can adversely affect the performance, making you tense for the next time you have to perform too. These tried and tested tips for relieving tension just before giving a presentation means you’ll be able to give as good as you can.

By Rana Sinha

One of the most successful English pop singers of all times, Robbie Williams, told the story of how the sight of a terrified David Beckham helped him to come to terms with nerves before his Live 8 performance in the summer of 2005. The singer was nervous about his first live performance in the UK for two years, but lost his nerves when he saw Beckham fretting about introducing him on stage at London’s Hyde Park. “David looked more scared and I got a perverse joy out of it,” he said on BBC One’s Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.

Everyone, even seasoned performers, sometimes gets nervous in front of audiences. So it is not strange that you too will feel nervous. What you do about your nerves is crucial. Most probably you have one or two of the following symptoms of nervousness.

  • Dry mouth
  • Tight throat
  • Sweaty hands
  • Cold hands
  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea
  • Fast pulse
  • Shaky knees

Don’t worry; you are perfectly normal. It just shows that you are human.

Exercise: Easing the Tension
Concentrating on physical exercises for a minute or two just before going on stage will not only get rid of discomfort, but can also energise you and thus put you in a better frame of mind to go and give your best.

There are a few simple exercises that can help to eliminate the tension you are likely to feel just before your presentation. Most likely you feel tension in your neck and shoulders – and this may cause you to appear hunched. It may also cause a tightening in your larynx – producing the breathless quivering or shaky voice associated with nervousness. Tension is also tiring and consequently it may have a detrimental effect on your overall performance. First of all you need to find a quiet place where you can be alone for a minute or two. You can do the exercises in a back room or backstage, where the audience can’t see you.

Reducing Tension in Neck and Shoulders
To ease stress in the neck, place your cupped hands at the base of your skull and press your head firmly back into them, holding the push for about ten seconds before releasing and repeating. During this exercise keep your elbows back and try closing your eyes.

Exercise for Reducing Tension in the Lower Back
A good way to relieve stress in the lower back is to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and reach for the sky. Point your fingers straight up as you stretch your arms above your head and keep stretching them as you feel the pressure on your back ease. Keeping your feet firmly on the ground, push your pelvis forward gently and hold yourself in this position for just a few seconds before gently relaxing back into your start position. Then you can move your hands and hips sideways a few times. This exercise helps to ease the muscles in the neck, back and hamstrings.

Breathing Exercise
The technique of alternate nostril breathing aims to balance our entire autonomic nervous system. First, clear your nostrils by breathing in and out quickly several times in a row. Next, place your hand so you can use the thumb to close one nostril and your ring finger to close the other. Begin by inhaling through both nostrils. Then breathe out through one nostril while blocking the other, and then switch and breathe in through the other nostril. After three complete breaths, exhale without switching sides, and do three more breaths.

After this you will surely be in a better frame of mind to go and give your best. Enjoy your presentation!

Rana Sinha is a cross-cultural trainer and author. He was born in India, and has studied, lived and travelled extremely widely, acquiring detailed cross-cultural knowledge and building an extensive network of professionals. He now lives in Helsinki, Finland, and runs, which specialises in human resource development as well as communication and management skills training with a cross-cultural emphasis.

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