Suppose that the dog that you had spent over 12 years of your life, including five transfer to different schools, died of cancer. On the day after you were supposed to give a big presentation before a set of some important professors. Do you think you could steel the will to do an outstanding presentation? Maybe. Maybe not.

Or how about you got a phone call that your grandfather who had lived closed to you for so many years before you moved overseas had sudden died of a heart attack.  Do you think that that very afternoon you could deliver a pumped-up presentation that would excite young employees? That could be a tall order.

Both happened to me. The first one when I was a university student, another was when I was working for manufacturing company. Temporarily, I was able to change my own personal state for the few hours and shove things aside.

That is usually NOT the best thing to do. The best thing to is to let yourself feel the emotion not put a cork in.  Simply because bad things can happen if you bottle up emotion for too long. But in a lot of cases at least in the short term, the show must go on. Especially when the client has paid, and the audience is waiting on you.

You do have the responsibility to keep all your commitments, no matter what curveballs life throws at you. Something this bad may not happen to you, but you still need to know what do when you feel a little down or nervous.

If you are feeling down or simply not in the best mood before a presentation, there are three simple things you can do. These are music, exercise, and meditation. I sometimes do one or all three depending on my mood, the time, and space available before an important presentation or even a speech contest. So let`s take a look in detail.

Mood Music

Music is a be a big motivator for me.  There also have been a fair amount of research that points that music can help change our moods. For example, A recent study by researcher Jacob Jolij and student Maaike Meurs of the Psychology Department of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands shows that music has a dramatic effect on smilie, frownie and neutral faces.

Happy music made it more likely to misinterpret a neural face for a slightly smilie one. The same was true in the reverse. That may sound like a bit of silly research, but who says research has to be serious all the time.  The point is that music can change our perception for the positive or negative.

Further, if you look at Olympic athlete you will find a lot of them listen to music to manage their mood for the big day.  Do a quick search and you find many a list of favorite songs by many a athlete. Of course there is also a more serious  study from Georgia Southern University measuring how music affected Division I college athletes.  They noticed that music helped these athletes control their moods.

But, you may think “Well, I am not an athlete, could this really work for me?” But, think back to all the songs you hear during the say, the songs that bring back memories, the songs you use for workouts, even the songs that you may listen to during the daily commute.  You may be using them to help enhance your mood without even thinking much about it.

But, here is a quick experiment that you can try to check it out for yourself. Imagine you have a big presentation coming up. There going be 40 to 50 people in the audience.  It is your first big break. Please imagine the stage, the feel of the lights, the faces of the people in front. Please imagine this in as much detail as possible.

If that is not making you nervous just increase the size of the audience, the size of the room, or even the size of the stakes. Once you are there then either imagine (or if possible play) a song that has made your happy or humped you up. A couple of titles that I particularly enjoy are:

Engage and Exercise

Moving your body is also a good way to change your mood. But don`t just take my word for it, the American Psychological Association says the same thing too. On their site they quote Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University. He says "the link between exercise and mood is pretty strong," Otto says. "Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect."

It later mentions that exercise also helps reduce anxiety. The reason is that exercise creates similar physical sensations as anxiety. This includes increased heart and respiratory rates, dry mouth, shortness of breath, etc. Allowing your self to experience the same symptoms as getting nervous, but from exercise instead allows to you to think of more healthier association with the symptoms and it also get you used to them.

If you are simply nervous it helps to have vigorous exercise. The reason this can help, is that it increases your heart rate.  If you increase your heart rate fairly high, your heart has only one way to go and that is to slow down.  As the heart slows down you naturally relax more and more.  Here are a couple of things you can do close to the stage:

  • Run as fast as you can in place, for 20s
  • Do push-ups as fast as you can with in 20s
  • Jump in place as fast as you can in 20s (do short jumps)
  • Beat a cushion up like Jackie Chan or Ken from the North Star 

If you have a little extra time, a walk in the park (not the Namie Amuro song) can also be relaxing. The reason is that this can provide a variety of things helps your body relax and feel good like:

  • phytoncides, which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds that plants give off and that can reduce blood pressure and boost immune functioning
  • negative air ions found in the air in forested and mountainous areas and near moving water, which reduce depression
  • mycobacterium vaccae, a common soil bacterium that has been shown to work as an antidepressant
  • nature sounds, which studies have shown activate the parasympathetic system and reduce heart rate

You can also simply strike a pose. If you are in place where you feel it is ok to shout, do that as well. Nothing works better than a “Yossha!” with a fist pump.  Or do some silly movements. You would be surprised how effective it is. 

Now, I will note that the "Power poses" by Amy Cuddy  is popular on TED video. I not only watched the video, I bought her book. But it turns out all of it is not backed up by repeatable research. This has been a problem that has recently plagued many social and psychological research.  However, I would not dismiss it completely right way. I suggest you try it and see if it works for you.

Even if the effect of a "power pose" itself is not really significant, the casual belief that it can be can create a placebo effect that works just as well. Results matter, so test and check.

Mellowing Meditation

If you are trying to create inner calm that you want to be able to turn on at will, meditation is is a good long term solution. The first two, exercise and music, are good short term band aids if you need a way to quickly change your mood.  But mediation or its relative mindfulness is a good way banish the "monkey mind" and all the chatter that can distract and hurt your performance. 

Many people have heard of it, but very people know how to do it. There are a lot books, videos, trainings, etc. There is is even an app for it. Apps are not for everyone, but I think it is a good place to start as the commitment tends to be less, plus you can do it anywhere.  I have on a couple occasion bough books with CDs only to realize that I didn`t even have a portable CD player.

There are a lot of free apps that can walk you through this. I tend to use Omvana (free) and the 6 Phase Meditation that is inside it.  It is very comprehensive it not only helps you relax but it also covers, gratitude, forgiveness, and visualization practices. This is all within 20 minutes! The only down side is that it is English only.

If you must have Japanese, I recommend Netamanma Yoga or Undo. I have only used these on a trail basis, but they seem good. If you know of a better one, please let me know.
At of those three which one should you do? If have time I suggest your first try Meditation. It may be hard to find a good place, but the restroom is always convenient.  If you don`t have a lot a time exercise and music and music work. But, remember everyone is slightly different, try a few different routines.  See what works for you.

See you on Stage!