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By Marie Proeller Hueston


Do you freeze up under pressure? Experts share their best tips for staying composed when the floor is all yours.

You know when you're about to say something and suddenly your mind goes completely blank? (Hours later, in a bittersweet stroke of genius, you'll think of the perfect words.) We've all been there: Brain freeze is a natural result of the body's fight-or-flight response to anxiety-inducing situations. The sympathetic nervous system triggers a hormonal cascade in the brain that temporarily suspends your ability to organize your thoughts, leaving you flustered. For advice on performing under pressure, whether you're in a private conversation or a roomful of people, we went to the pros -- five folks who make a living thinking on their feet (including a law professor, an improv coach, and a TV show host). Here, their smooth-talking secrets.

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  • Assume The Posture

    "Body language can translate directly to the mind's willingness to engage in conversation. People who are nervous tend to step back, fold their arms, avert their eyes. They are actually putting up physical barriers. You can't be fully present or think spontaneously if you're trying not to be seen. So stand tall with your legs apart, on the balls of your feet, make eye contact -- and smile." -- Matt Hovde, artistic director of the Second City Chicago Training Center, a sketch comedy and improvisation school

  • Find An 'Anchor'

    "If you start to get anxious, a simple gesture, or 'anchor,' can bring you back into focus. Think of a tennis player intently bouncing the ball before she serves. The bouncing has nothing to do with the serve; it has to do with mental preparation. To find an anchor, think about what you do when you are collected and confident. Perhaps you roll your shoulders back or straighten your spine. Do that one thing whenever you're agitated or distracted, and it'll help turn on the lights in your brain." -- Peter Meyers, communication consultant and coauthor of<i> <a href="http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/as-we-speak-peter-meyers/1100213245?ean=9781439153086" target="_blank">As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Have It Stick</a></i>

  • Take The Plunge

    "If you're feeling uncomfortable in a particular situation, the best thing you can do is enter the discussion early. The longer you wait, the more frightened you may become. I've found that in my classes, female students tend to wait to speak up until they have their responses just right in their heads, while male students jump in with an idea even if it's not worded perfectly. Don't be a shrinking violet. If the guts of your statement are right, that's good enough." -- Molly Bishop Shadel, associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, where she teaches oral advocacy and verbal persuasion

  • Buy Some Time

    "Paraphrasing the key points someone else just made gives you a moment to gather your thoughts before responding. Like: 'I heard you saying________ . Is that right?' or 'It sounds like the questions you're raising are___________ . Did I miss anything?' This not only ensures that you processed the information correctly but also lets the other person know you are listening, interested, and committed to the topic at hand. Don't use this tool more than once or twice in a conversation, though, or you'll risk sounding like a parrot." -- Larina Kase, PsyD, cognitive-behavioral psychologist and coauthor of<i> <a href="http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Confident-Speaker/Harrison-Monarth/e/9780071481496" target="_blank">The Confident Speaker</a></i>

  • Lighten Up

    "If your mind goes blank, laugh at yourself -- it'll dissipate the tension in the room. When people are expecting me to be funny but I'm bombing, I'll pray to the comedy gods -- out loud -- to give me just one joke. Your audience can relate to the pressure you feel; they root for you. Plus, talking about being nervous takes your mind off being nervous, and then you can get on about your business." -- Sheryl Underwood, comedian and cohost of CBS's "The Talk"

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  • Peel An Orange

    Citrus aromas can curb stress and anxiety, as well as help with digestion and nausea, says <a href="http://www.prevention.com/health/emotional-health/scent-citrus-shown-reduce-stress#ixzz2NeCzO1Uz" target="_blank">Prevention magazine</a>.

  • Read A Book For Six Minutes

    Research has shown that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html" target="_blank">reading even for six minutes</a> can lower levels of stress.

  • Eat An Avocado

    Avocados have been shown to lower blood pressure, research shows. <a href="http://www.marieclaire.com/health-fitness/advice/reduce-stress-foods" target="_blank">Other foods to help chill you out</a> include salmon, almonds and spinach.

  • Walk To Some Green Space

    A short walk in the park helps lower stress and allows the brain to recover from tension, <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904199404576538260326965724.html?mod=djemLifeStyle_h" target="_blank">research shows</a>.

  • Delegate Some Tasks

    <a href="http://www.mindtools.com/stress/WorkOverload/Delegation.htm" target="_blank">Pass some responsibility off to other people</a> to help lower your stress levels.

  • Try This Easy Yoga Pose

    The easiest yoga pose called Savasana -- or corpse pose -- only requires that you lay on your back and relax with arms at your sides. Do this for 15 minutes to de-stress, <a href="http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/1515" target="_blank">Yoga Journal suggests</a>.

  • Practice Zen Meditation

    Find a peaceful place near your office and <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070" target="_blank">focus on your breathing and clear your mind </a>for 10 minutes to bring stress down.

  • Take A Nap

    A power nap of 20 minutes can do wondrous things for stress -- and <a href="http://www.naturalnews.com/031429_power_naps_energy.html" target="_blank">boost memory, cognitive skills, creativity, and energy level, research has shown</a>.

  • Take Your Dog To Work

    Research has shown that workers who take their dogs to work <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/03/30/149684409/take-your-dog-to-the-office-and-stress-less" target="_blank">are less stressed out</a>.

  • Listen To Mozart

    Research has shown that <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15327344" target="_blank">listening to Mozart is more relaxing than listening to new age music</a>. Try listening to <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb_jQBgzU-I" target="_blank">Eine Kleine Nachtmusik</a> on your lunch hour.

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