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How To Relax At A Pitch Meeting

05/24/2011 04:53 pm ET | Updated Jul 24, 2011

Going into a pitch meeting can be very evocative: Your heart rate increases, your breathing gets shallow and your muscles tighten. Fear and nerves can overwhelm you.

Many entrepreneurs and business executives experience what is called the "fight or flight" response when pitching their idea in front of an audience. Having techniques to calm yourself down in these high-stakes situations can make pitching much easier and help you to better convey your message.

Being calm and relaxed requires releasing your muscles so that you can breathe easily. This allows you to think more clearly, understand your listeners' needs, and creatively communicate the necessity of your product or service. Below are 10 strategies to calm your nerves before you pitch your idea:

1) Warm up.

Professional athletes and performers always warm up before an important event. Getting some physical activity in before you pitch your idea will prepare your body, voice, and nervous system for the physical demands of the meeting. You will be loose in your body and feel more relaxed.

2) Don't practice your pitch the day of.

If you aren't prepared the day of the pitch, you haven't done your work. Practice several days before, so you aren't scrambling to remember the details of your pitch. Use the time before your meeting to calm your nerves and relax your body. Rehearsing moments before can often trigger more nerves and self doubt.

3) Don't look down.

Staring at the ground can trigger more nerves. Looking out into the room focuses your attention on the present moment. When you are focused on the present moment, fear and nerves have less power to overwhelm you.

4) Do not slouch.

Slouching makes it harder for you to breathe. When your body cannot breathe easily, you get more nervous. Sitting or standing at your full height, with a broad chest and shoulders, allows your ribs and diaphragm to move with your breath. This also makes you look confident as you deliver your pitch.

5) Say "Ahh."

Holding your breath is a common response to nerves that will only make you more nervous. Letting breath out with an "ahh" sound slows your breath rate, which slows your heart rate, which, in turn, calms your nervous system. This also helps your neck muscles, shoulder muscles and muscles around your ribcage release during the out breath.

6) Before you begin, take a moment to be still and quiet.

Even if it is 5 minutes, some quiet still time before you walk into a pitch meeting will focus you and your attention on what you need to accomplish. You can collect your thoughts so your delivery is clear. Taking a brief moment (2 - 3 seconds) before you actually begin speaking, focuses your listener's attention as well.

7) Stand with a wide stance, with your feet about hips-width distance.

A broad stance grounds you. Your brain isn't distracted by having to keep you in balance. If you lean on one hip, cross your legs as you stand, or have an extremely narrow stance, your whole body has to tense unnecessarily when you stand in front of your listeners. A broad stance also looks more confident and open.

8) Slow down.

Many people rush when they get nervous. Your listeners miss important information when you rush and can feel your nervous energy. When you slow down, your listeners literally have more time to process what you are saying. You can better process what you are saying and can stay focused on your talking points.

9) Unclench your jaw.

Clenching your jaw will make you feel more agitated, uptight, and maybe even defensive. Unclench your jaw by allowing your lower teeth to release away from your upper teeth. Letting breath out of your mouth also encourages the jaw to release.

10) Let go of unnecessary tension in your neck and shoulders.

The first place fear and nerves show up in your body is in the neck and shoulders. Slowly and gently letting your shoulders to release down away from your ears and into width will help you to relax. Allowing your neck muscles to release can lower your blood pressure, make it easier to breathe and make you look at ease.