Whether you're heading into an interview, giving a presentation or pitching your new business to investors, some meetings can just stress you out. Once you start feeling stressed, you don't speak as well, and you risk giving a bad impression. Of course, knowing this hardly helps: As soon as you feel that first flicker of fear for an upcoming meeting, you might find yourself entering a stress-filled feedback loop.
Here are a few ways you can stop that cycle in its tracks and handle any meeting stress-free – or at least, stress-reduced:
Knowing what you're talking about inside and out will go miles for improving your ability to speak under pressure. If you're pitching to investors, try and think of questions they'll have for you as you go along. Make sure you know the answers, and then imagine what kind of questions your answers will prompt. Although you might not need half of the information you prepare for, it's better than preparing half of what you need. The same goes for any type of meeting: If you're at the "could talk about it in my sleep" level of knowledge, you'll make it through a moment of panic.
Figure out what you're going to say and say it out loud. Letting the words reach your ear will help you avoid wording that looks fine on paper but sounds awkward. It will also help you figure out your pacing and flow. Even simple phrases like, "Here's one of my business cards," will be more natural if you've practiced in advance.
In addition to practicing on your own, try to run your presentation by other people. If you're preparing for a job interview, have a friend ask you questions and give them your answers. This will get you ready for the real thing.
4. Imagine the Worst
Really understanding the answer to "What's the worst that can happen?" can actually make you a lot less nervous. Your mind will run wild with possibilities, but if you answer it realistically it's probably not that terrible, and it's almost certainly better than not having the meeting at all. Once you've reduced hyperbole, it's easier to let your anxiety go.
5. Go on a Walk
Getting a little bit of exercise right before your meeting can reduce jitters: Try to take a stroll around the block or do some quick stretches before you head in.
The Mayo Clinic recommends slow, deep breaths as one of the ways to reduce fear while public speaking. Breathing exercises allow you to focus and prevent you from running out of breath in the middle of a sentence.
7. Slow Down
People tend to speak quickly when they're nervous: Be aware of this, and adjust accordingly. Speaking slowly might feel strange, but it will help your audience fully understand what you have to say.
8. Drink Water
There are two great reasons to have a glass of water on hand when in a meeting. First, you'll be able to take a quick sip if your throat starts to feel dry, preventing you from needing to cough. Second, it gives you a a built-in way to pause and collect your thoughts.
Smiling doesn't just make you look more confident, it can actually make you feel more confident as well. Going through your meeting with a pleasant expression will keep your nerves down, and no one will know you were worried to begin with.
10. Learn and Improve
After your meeting, think over how things went. If having a glass of water on-hand was the perfect way to give yourself a break, you'll know to repeat that in the future. If you realize that you spoke way too quickly, you can practice slowing down. Use your experience to do better going forward.