Many people try to calm their nerves before speaking in public. But as a performer, I know that being nervous before a performance actually keeps me focused. When I’m not nervous, I start to get careless and make mistakes.

In my recent article for the Harvard Business Review, I decided to delve further into this topic:

“In his book Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, Daniel McGinn, an executive editor at Harvard Business Review, talks about pre-performance rituals for athletes, speakers, and surgeons who have to perform in high-stakes situations. There’s one quote in the book, by Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks, that really struck me: “The argument is that anxiety and excitement are actually very, very close, but … anxiety and calmness are too far apart.”

According to Brooks, focusing on excitement rather than trying to calm down actually increases performance. So, when we tell people to calm down before a big speech, we’re actually suggesting something that’s incredibly difficult. We’re also inadvertently recommending something that could potentially inhibit a person’s performance.”

Based on that logic, here is a pre-speech ritual to help you focus, prepare, and turn your anxiety into excitement:

1. Pause & Breathe

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take a few minutes to center yourself.


2. Remind yourself why you care

Ask yourself why this speech, this topic, or this audience is important to you. Tell yourself – out loud — how excited you are about this opportunity and the positive impact it will have on others.


3. Visualize the entire presentation

Give the speech in your mind, from start to finish; imagine it going incredibly well.


4. Listen to a song that makes you smile

Find a song that brings you positive energy; it could be something from your childhood or a recent song that you are playing on repeat.


Don’t try to completely calm your nerves before your next virtual or in-person presentation. Use the above routine to get into the right mindset and reframe your nerves as excitement. Both you and your audience will enjoy the presentation.


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