Overcome your virtual presentation anxiety by doing these 5 exercises

Virtual presentations can be awkward. There is something about them that makes most people nervous. Here are five exercises that help you be a better communicator.

Our performance during presentations and meetings relies a lot on the audience response. In virtual meetings, this crucial element is entirely missing. In her Harvard Business Review article Yes, Virtual Presenting Is Weird, Sarah Greshman, Executive Speech Coach and Presentation Skills Trainer in Washington, D.C. mentioned that she worked with a CEO who told her, “I loved working the room. Now, I feel like I’m speaking into a black hole.”

Most of us resonate with this situation, nowadays.

When speaking to the screen, we tend to ramble, speak in a monotone, slur, and use fillers (remember those “ah, um, you know, like”) more than usual.

It’s no surprise that “how” you say something is as important as “what” you say.

Research suggests that if the presenter does all the talking, the audience engagement levels drop by 14%. It is not the ‘quantity’ but the ‘quality’ of your speech that creates impact.

It’s absolutely possible to calm your nerves before a virtual meeting. Here are 5 exercises to connect better with your audience and deliver an effective virtual presentation. 

The 4-4-6-2 Breathing Technique

This is a basic technique to control your breathing and induce relaxation, focus, and clarity. Before you begin your Zoom call, pay attention to how you breathe. Follow the below breathing pattern:

  • Inhale through the nose for the Count of 4
  • Hold the breath for the Count of 4
  • Exhale through the mouth for the Count of 6
  • Hold the breath for the Count of 2

This completes one set. Repeat the set. Try doing 4-5 sets of this exercise and make sure top remember these three things:

  • Take slow, deep breaths using your ribcage instead of your upper chest.
  • Don’t force yourself
  • Rest in between

You will feel your breathing slowing down.

The 4-4-6-2 breathing technique is helpful to calm your parasympathetic nervous system that induces stress and anxiety. Breathing apps like HeadspaceiBreathe, and Breathe In can gently coach you to practice different breathing techniques, enabling you to perform at your best. 

Progressive muscle relaxation

Another effective exercise to calm your nerves during a virtual meeting. It is a simple two-step process of alternating tension and relaxation in specific muscle groups.

  • Step 1 – Squeeze the muscles in your shoulder by bringing your shoulder closer to your ears. Feel the tightness and count till 10.
  • Step 2 – Slowly release the tension in those muscles and relax.

Most often, you won’t notice that your muscles feel tense. As you practice this progressive muscle relaxation technique, you will notice the difference.

Couple these two steps with your breathing. Clench the muscles when you breathe in and unclench as you breathe out.

Top tip: Listen to the free MP3 audio file by McMaster University to practice progressive muscle relaxation.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Countdown

Have you ever been in this situation?

You are in a Zoom call, staring at your colleagues on the screen, but your mind is wandering. Suddenly you are asked to unmute and answer a question. All eyeballs are on you, and you freeze!

To avoid such situations, it is important to be present in the moment.

5-4-3-2-1 is a helpful grounding technique to bring you to ‘here and now’ when your mind bounces between various thoughts.

Sit quietly and observe:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

Using your senses, you will get out of your head and connect with your body and surroundings in the present moment. Being in the present will make sure you listen and contribute better during the virtual meetings.

Record and analyse your voice

There is a reason we say, “Practice makes perfect!”. You cannot overcome presentation anxiety without practicing your speech.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to listen to yourself speak. Pick up a phone and record your audio. Speak on any topic for a couple of minutes. Play it back and try to be more self aware of

  • Words spoken per minute
  • Length of your pauses
  • Number of filler words
  • Number of hedging phrases

Most professionals shy away from seeking professional help to become confident and effective presenters. This is where apps like speechx come in handy.

speechx listens to you speak and provides comprehensive insights into your speech performance, including contribution, clarity, brevity, inclusivity and confidence.

Steve Jobs captivated his audience for decades. In his book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be insanely great in front of any audience, Carmine Gallo mentioned that Steve Jobs practiced his presentations for hours and days to make them look effortless and smooth.

Watch Steve Jobs’ Introducing The iPhone At MacWorld 2007. One of the best presentations of all time.

Practice self-compassion

According to Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion, we tend to treat ourselves harshly when things go wrong. Neff’s defines self-compassion as:

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings — after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

Be kind to yourself.

Do these:

  • Identify your negative self-talk
  • Accept that presentation anxiety is part of being human
  • Create a kind phrase for yourself like “I feel proud of myself for putting the time and effort to improve my presentation skills. It is a constant effort and I won’t give up.”

This is a great way to remind yourself that virtual presentations don’t pose any danger to your survival and you are safe.