Stress Reduction for Online and Offline Presentations

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As a speaker, it’s important to notice when you’re experiencing stress. That’s what I recently discussed with Brendan Cournane. He has been a practitioner of mindfulness techniques for more than 30 years and incorporates his mindfulness skills into his coaching. Stress is our body’s reaction to external factors. Stress can be either positive or negative. Positive stress is called eustress. Negative stress is called distress. The common root portion of the two words is “stress.”

When you ask yourself “Am I in a stressful mode?” think about potato chips and chicken wings. “Potato chips” is something you may be experiencing right now. Take a moment: Make really tight fists with both hands, and notice how your shoulders and your jaw feel. Tight? That’s stress manifesting itself in your body. 

Now, very slowly release those fingers – feel the stress coming down your jaw, down your neck, your shoulders, your arms and all the way down to your fingers. Now wiggle your fingers, and notice how much stress is released, it’s tangible. Any kind of stress we have can build that kind of tension.

Even things we think of as ‘positive’ (eustress) can create tension. Getting a promotion at work, falling in love, the birth of a child, playing with your dog or your kids outside in the snow, to name a few. We look at those as positive things but they still cause a physical and mental reaction, which is stress.

Stress Tests

Potato chips: If you were holding a bunch of potato chips in your hands with your hands wide open and you started to clench your fist and you feel that potato chip breaking, then you’re experiencing stress – sometimes on a daily basis.

Chicken wings: When you pull your shoulders up tight (like a continuous shrugging of the shoulders) and your hands are next to your body. If you’re walking or running and your hands are close to your body, you’re not getting very much motion. Your body is working against you. The disconnection between what your body is feeling and your mind is thinking also forms stress.  Once you recognize this, you can lower your shoulders, put your hands at your side, wiggle your fingers and shake your arms out. When you do that there’s a natural tendency for the body to relax.

Why Speakers Need to Recognize Stress

Countless studies prove public speaking is one of the most stressful things people experience. No matter how well you know the material, no matter how comfortable you feel with the audience, when you’re making eye contact with the audience in person or through Zoom, you know (or at least fear) they’re judging you.

You can also create stress when you see someone in a live audience looking down at their phone or when you see someone on a Zoom call looking away from their camera to do something else; you might have a tendency to focus on that one person instead of the other 100 people in the audience that ARE connecting with you. That causes stress. When you’re focusing on that you’re not being in the present moment.

Brendan pays attention to body language when he speaks to groups. He observes without judgment and looks for the opportunity to connect. For example, when he sees someone with their eyes closed, that doesn’t mean they’re falling asleep. Maybe closing their eyes means they’re really concentrating on what he’s saying. In that scenario, Brendan scans the audience rather than focusing in on that one person. He looks for a smile or someone’s eyes lighting up in response to what he’s saying. You can do the same thing in a Zoom room. It can bring you back to the present moment which will help you release the stress.

Stress and Zoom Meetings

One of the biggest sources of stress in Zoom meetings is wondering “Are they paying attention?” Maybe someone is eating something or getting up from their chair to walk around as if the speaker can’t see them. This can cause the speaker to think he/she isn’t resonating with the audience and their message isn’t getting across. If you experience this, you can decide to think “They’re so comfortable listening to me that they feel okay eating or getting up from their chair.” This helps you turn a negative thought process into a positive one.

As the speaker, you can help the audience relax and maintain their attention. Go through your material, trust yourself and trust your process. When you believe in the content and you believe in yourself, you exude confidence. When you exude confidence, it really doesn’t matter what the audience is doing. You must believe the information that you’re imparting is going to be useful in the moment or sometime down the road.

Believe you’re going to say something that resonates with most of the people in your audience. It could be that ‘a-HA!’ moment when you make a statement or it could be something the audience realizes tomorrow or next week. Their a-HA! Moment may come when they remember your comment and think “THAT’S what he/she was talking about, now I get it!” It’s not always during the presentation. As a speaker you have to realize you are having an impact.  Knowing you are making a difference can relieve your tension and stress.

Planning for Less Stressful Presentations

Think about the environment, whether it’s on a Zoom call or when we get back to live presentations. What’s the environment in which you are presenting? Are you sitting next to a space heater or a drafty window?  You need to create a space that is environmentally sound to give a comfortable presentation. What environment are you setting as a speaker? Recognize the environment that you present best from and create it.

While you can control that in a Zoom situation, live presentations are a different beast. In those rooms you might not be able to control the thermostat. In that case you can plan ahead by bringing a jacket and a short-sleeved shirt to adapt to the environment. Be comfortable enough with yourself to take the jacket off if you’re too hot or leave the jacket on if you’re too cold.You

That’s only one example for live and Zoom presentations. The takeaway here is to know yourself and where you’re most comfortable; and be able to adapt and be flexible.  Expect the unexpected and roll with whatever happens. When you’re on Zoom calls and you know you’re giving a presentation to 100 people, you know what the topic is, you know that you can set the stage in your home and have everything you need at hand. In live presentations things can go wrong that are out of your control no matter how well you plan. You have to trust yourself to be able to adapt on the fly.

In either situation if someone asks you a question from left field that’s going to disrupt your thought process you have to find a way to deal with that. If you’re confident with yourself, you can handle that distraction. If you’re not confident, you’re likely to be thrown off your game. To deflect a situation like that you can say, “Thank you for asking, I’ll get back to that in a minute” That gives you the opportunity to regroup. When you expect the unexpected, you’re less likely to experience stress when the unexpected happens.

In Closing…

If you’re going to do one thing to have less stressful presentations, you should… Have fun! If you have fun you’ll be authentic and in line with your values. If you have fun, you’ll be relaxed. If you have fun, you can deal with distractions. If you have fun your presentation will come across as being genuine and relatable to everybody in the audience.

If you have fun, you’ll experience less stress.

Brendan Cournane is a professional speaker, attorney, endurance athlete, and certified personal development coach who shares his experience, strength and hope helping attorneys and other professionals identify their core values, develop better leadership skills and lead a healthier lifestyle through mindfulness and well-being practices.  He has practiced mindfulness techniques for over 30 years and incorporates his mindfulness skills into his coaching while following the dictum that “coach” is a verb, not a noun.

He can be reached through his website: or by email:

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