When working with leaders on communication and influence I often get asked for strategies on maintaining composure in pressure cooker situations. For some this means speaking up in a meeting when all eyes are on you, for others it might be presenting to important clients or senior stakeholders that seem to be judging your every move, and for others, it might simply be having to respond to questions without warning – being put on the spot.
Whatever the moment is for you (and trust me, we all have them), there’s nothing like that tightening of the chest, the constriction of the throat, and the seemingly total inability to find your brilliance in that moment… even when you know it’s in there somewhere! Our physiology becomes our biggest enemy as our brains shut down and our bodies retreat into survival mode. Without our ability to stay calm, keep our composure and find that all-important link between what we know and our ability to communicate it effectively, we begin to falter. It becomes easy to feel intimidated and lose our composure.
Simple tricks for staying calm under pressure
Slow down – As our heart rates quicken so too can our speech, and often with disastrous results.
Breathe – Seems trite to say, ‘just breathe’ but seriously, just breathe. There is so much science behind why regulating your breathing is vital for composure. Breathe evenly and breathe deeply. You may not have the luxury of walking away and taking 6 deep breaths before re-engaging, but at least you can start to slow the heart rate down which gives your brain the best chance of reconnecting to your ‘thinking’ functions.
Keep it simple – shorten your sentences, stick with simple messages, get clear on your main point and stick to it.
Retreat early – If all that fails and you feel like you’re in conversational quick sand and sinking fast, then, if possible, temporarily retreat as soon as you can. Regain your composure, clarify your stance, do that deep breathing, then go back and try again with your new footing.
Anneli is an author, speaker and communication expert (a.k.a professional People Whisperer), who helps her clients improve their communication, influence and engagement. She’s obsessed with decoding people dynamics for improved performance and specialises in interpersonal intelligence - the ability to understand and navigate the people dynamics in a given situation.
Anneli is the co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. She is currently working on her next book, ‘Decoding Resistance: The real reason people won’t do what you want’, a practical guide for increasing buy-in, reducing push back and navigating the daily barriers that impact influence, engagement and change.
Need to improve your leadership effectiveness through greater influence, engagement and impact? Contact Anneli today to discuss how working one on one with a communication expert can help you reach your leadership goals.