When you enter your own kitchen, you probably know exactly how many paces it takes to reach the fridge; how to turn on a tap; or where to find a teaspoon. You could probably do those things with your eyes shut. At home, your body knows the space; it's developed a physical memory that bypasses any conscious need to orientate itself.
And if I were a fly on the wall watching you there, I would be able to read from your body that this is your space, your territory. You literally look… At Home.
Very different from the way you look when you feel the fear of an unknown territory. That fear will be something your audience reads in your body – even if only subconsciously.
Fear makes us shrink.
So grow. Pull yourself up to your full height. Try getting the top of your head to reach the ceiling. (Without either letting your heels come off the floor, or tilting your chin – check by putting a book on your head! Raising your eyebrows won’t help much, either.)
At the same time, forbid your shoulders to defy gravity (which is their tendency when nervous or inhibited). Move your shoulder-blades downwards, towards your back jeans pockets, real or imagined.
Walk around like that. Make it easy, make it fluid. If you’re straining, you’re working too hard at it. Aim for ease.
It’s no bad thing – if you want to look as if you know what you’re doing – to practise that all the time so that it becomes second nature. But especially when you want to look as if you know what you’re doing as a presenter or a meeting leader, practise that in the space. Grab any opportunity you may get to visit the space before the event.
Walk around in it. Sit where a member of your audience will be sitting for a moment. Then somewhere else. Touch the seats, the tables, the walls as you go. All the time, think to yourself: ‘This is my territory. I belong here.’ It may seem daft, but it’s powerful. Just like dogs do, it’s a way of ‘weeing on the lamp-post’ (I do mean metaphorically).
Of course, if you have the chance to rehearse your whole presentation in the space in advance, all the better. Begin by sitting, wherever you expect to be seated at the event itself. Then you can rehearse the journey from there to wherever you’ll be standing to deliver your presentation. Even if it’s only a pace or two, remember that your presentation begins with that journey. Draw yourself up to full height as you first stand up. Then take those paces with as much energy as you can muster – as if you can’t wait to get into your kitchen and throw open the fridge door to contemplate the irresistible goodies inside.
Arrive in position, look slowly around the space, get rid of any breath in your body, and then take a full breath into your stomach, feeling it expand. Then – and only then – say your opening line, out loud, with as much pride and authority as you can. Imagine you’re calling the words to the back wall. Even if it’s just ‘good morning’ (though try to come up with something more unexpected.)
Practise taking possession of your space – and your own body within it – and I promise you, when you come to do it for real, it won’t seem so daunting.