Whether you finally scored a face-to-face with that big client or you’re in charge of your company’s town hall meeting, there’s no denying it: It’s nerve-wracking. Even if you’re a seasoned pro, it’s a lot of pressure to get up in front of people and speak.
Follow these four steps from FastCompany and you’re sure to set a strong tone for the rest of the meeting.
1. Consider possible questions – not answers
The night before the meeting, sit down and brainstorm questions you might be asked. The key here: Don’t write the answers.
Writing your answers means you won’t be fully focused when you’re addressing the actual question. Rather, you’ll be focused on trying to remember what you wrote, and your responses won’t be as natural.
Instead, give the possible questions some gentle thought. No need to write anything. Be present in the moment and trust you have the knowledge to give great responses.
2. Get into the politician’s mindset
Something a lot of politicians have in common: the ability to answer a possibly unrelated question while staying on point.
It’s a true talent you’ll see in most debates. A politician is asked a question, and even though he or she answers the question, he or she manages to turn the answer right back to the main talking points.
One way to do just that: Acknowledge someone’s idea and steer the conversation back down the right path with something like, This sounds like an interesting idea. Can you tell me more about it after this meeting? Or Could you email that to me, so I can spend more time digesting it?
But sometimes, you’re just going to have to address it head-on: You seem distracted. Is there a problem?
Go into your meeting prepared to direct every question, concern and problem back to the topic of the meeting. Start off with this pattern and it’ll continue through the entire session.
3. Look at everyone
Whether you know every single person in the room or they’re all new faces, look at them all.
It’s a mistake a lot of people make – they think to only look at the decision-makers in the room.
Be fair and give everyone a second or two of eye contact. If there are too many people in the room to do this, divide the room up into sections and pick one person from each slice. That will give the appearance you’re giving everyone equal “eye time.”
4. Focus on your breathing
Imagine you’re playing in the World Series and you’re next up to bat. You’re tense, you’re subconsciously holding your breath, you’re fidgeting – and suddenly, your confidence goes right out the window.
You get a similar feeling right before you walk into a big meeting.
Try Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise for instant relaxation: Exhale completely through your mouth, making a gentle whooshing sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose, slowly counting to four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, and slowly count to eight.