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Feeling stressed by the thought of presenting? Heart beating faster? Sweaty brow? Clammy hands? Short of breath? Wobbling kneecaps? You're definitely not the only one to suffer such symptoms. The vagus nerve squeeze not only deals to those symptoms, you actually feel calmer immediately.

Just one caution: if you overdo it, you'll faint.

First a starter exercise - diaphram-breathing. To make vagus nerve squeeze work well, you'll need to get used to breathing by moving your stomach, not your chest. Rest a hand on your stomach and make it move in and out by breathing. Don't go to the next step until you can do it. If you're having trouble, tighten a belt around your chest so that only your stomach can move with the air.


The vagus nerve squeeze

Okay, with diaphram breathing only:

  1. Breathe out fully through your mouth. (Stomach goes in.) Hold on empty for three seconds.
  2. Now breathe in fully, slowly and deeply through your nose (Stomach comes out.) Hold your lungs full for three seconds.
  3. Exhale very slowly, this time through your mouth. When half the air is gone, partially block the flow of air by pressing your lips close together like a flute player, so that you have to tense your stomach muscles to keep on exhaling. Now, keep forcing the air out until you don't have even a whisper of air left. Hold on empty for three seconds.
  4. Start again at the second step and repeat the cycle.

If you feel faint, stop!

Doctors will tell you that this type of breathing acts on the vagus nerve which acts on the heart, slowing it. Clearly, it also affects the oxygenation of the blood.

Involve your imagination

As you do it, use your imagination. On the inhale, visualize lines of energy flowing down from the audience into the earth and then up into you. On the exhale, imagine pushing all your presentation worries out of you to dissipate in the air. You’ll feel a difference after just one cycle. Three is plenty, and be careful—if you overdo it you’ll lower your bloodpressure suddenly and you might wake up on the floor.

The vagus nerve squeeze is a very effective way to deal to most symptoms of fear, not just in presentations.



Interested in a workshop on presentation skills for your team?

About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally-charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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