This is One Thing, a column with tips on how to live.
I used to have a lot of trouble with public speaking. Like, a lot! It took therapy, an SSRI, and years of practice to get to a significantly better place with it and related activities, like job interviews or big meetings. (One of the things I learned in all the therapy: zero anxiety about something that is basically universally nerve-racking is not a realistic or even desirable goal.)
If speaking in front of even a very small crowd makes your body and mind tense up like a cat about to be dunked in water, there is no one quick tip or trick that is going to solve the issue. But there is something that I’ve done over the years—the bad years and the calmer ones—that always helps take some of the edge off. I Google “free meditation UCLA,” click on this link (which goes to the university’s Mindful Awareness Research Center), and play the first guided meditation that appears on the page. It is five minutes long.
The track starts with the words “So find a relaxed, comfortable position,” seemingly midpreamble, as if the narrator has been with me in the experience I am having and is here to gently interrupt it. Her voice is slow and deliberate; as the meditation continues, she says, “Let yourself relax,” and “see if you can be really kind to yourself,” inviting the listener to focus their attention on the flow of their breath. Toward the end, there is about one minute of total silence.
As far as meditations go, it’s the right balance of talking and quiet and time, at least for me. It’s not focused on a specific theme or topic, like the meditations on the app I use for my semiregular, very imperfect routine meditation, so it applies to basically any situation. And the track is short enough that if I realize I’m feeling extra nervous right before a big meeting, for example, I know I have time to complete it.
There are many short guided meditations that would serve a similar purpose. Setting a timer on your phone and doing breathing exercises works too. Sometimes, I just take several deep inhales instead of cuing up the track. But there’s something about having a consistent grounding ritual, accessible from whatever device I have nearby, to return to over and over. In moments of nerves, it can just be helpful to hear a familiar voice.