Earlier this month, my colleague from the Career Development Center and I supported a networking career event organized by the Alumnae Association at Mount Holyoke College. Keynote speaker, Susan Daniels, alumna, professor and actress, prepared students and alumnae for the event’s networking moments with activities and a message I feel compelled to share about how to help you pay attention to your comfort level, how you present yourself and how you sound to your audience (an individual or a group). She recommended three techniques actors use to center themselves before going on stage that we can borrow in order to speak and network with confidence.

1. Breathe from your belly. Many of us when we are nervous breathe in our chest, sometimes more rapidly than we might feel. In order to calm your nerves and breath, try this exercise. Place your thumb on your belly button and your hand over your stomach right below. Breathe in through your nose, letting your stomach expand like a balloon and then breathe out through your mouth slowly (about 10 counts) letting your stomach deflate completely. Repeat two more times. Since learning this technique, I have been in front of a room of people at least a handful or two more times and despite not generally feeling stressed about speaking in public, this breathing exercise has helped every time. I’d say do it any time to soothe your soul.

2. Root like a Redwood tree. Stand up straight with both feet planted firmly on the floor. Now pretend like your feet are reaching 8 feet below the surface you are standing on. Do you feel more grounded? Just by visualizing yourself in this way, extending and conscientiously rooting yourself, you feel stable and confident. Even the simple act of crossing your legs could shrink your confidence and presence in the room. Before speaking up in class, at a presentation or in a meeting, plant your feet firmly on the ground to show yourself that you are grounded.

To illustrate this point even further, Ms. Daniels shared that the redwood trees in California grow only 8 feet below the ground before extending horizontally, connecting with other redwood trees’ root systems to grow as tall and as majestically as we know them to do. Building a strongly, rooted network starts with your own extension down and, when networking, that rooting gets extended through your confident conversations and presentation. So think: Root deep and extend or connect long to find strength in collaboration for career success.

3. Shake it out. Everyone gets nervous. It is natural when we consider speaking with a professional contact of interest for the first time or in front of a group who is unfamiliar to us. To move through this, Ms. Daniels recommended that we start by shaking our hands with intention, really get them moving- don’t be shy. Next, shake your arms, getting your body moving. Without stopping from moving your hands, get your shoulders, chest, back and stomach in on the fun. Shake out your knees, ankles and feet, even your pinky toes! Now, stop. Look at your hands. How do they look? Are they still shaking? I bet not! Taking control of the shaking, calms it down. Do this in the bathroom before an event or simply shake out your hands if you do not have the time to go all out.

The sum total of these three actions will prepare you for any in-person connection, presentation or event. Doing just one can provide a great deal of comfort in a previously stressful situation for you. I recommend finding what combination works for you to be the best networker, presenter and professional you can be.

Like to read? Ms. Daniels recommends the book: Brag! How to Toot Your Own Horn without Blowing it by Peggy Klaus

Want to practice speaking with others? Consider joining Toastmasters.

Connect with Ms. Daniels (sdaniels@mtholyoke.edu) to learn about the ways she supports individuals and groups in using professional actor techniques to help presenters relax, focus and engage with their audience. She offers a number of workshops, that focus on various aspects of presentation, and especially enjoys working with women on authentic leadership and speaking with confidence.

© Meghan Godorov, 2015

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