'Owning' a Room, Even When You Don't Feel That You Can
There will always be a time when you’re in a roomful of people and dread it. Examples:
- Your feet beg you to listen to your fight or flight response, but your mind forces you to stay and pursue business opportunities.
- Your nervousness and anxiety creep up as you prepare to speak to a crowd.
- You contemplate tip-toeing out because your introvert side is protesting having to mingle and make small talk.
- Your palms sweat because you have to give difficult news to your team.
Nervousness and anxiety are mortal enemies to confidence and charisma. And as an entrepreneur and leader, you'll encounter many moments when the two sides will wage war inside you. But take heart. There are strategies for making sure that your confidence and charisma, not your trauma and turbulence, emerge victorious. Here are several.
When fight or flight is turned on, your body immediately and involuntarily tenses up. The muscles prepare for a brawl or a sprint. Your fearful and anxious thoughts send even more of the fight or flight signal to your brain, which spreads freak-out chemicals throughout your body, and fuels even more of your fearful and anxious thoughts. Thus the vicious cycle continues.
Short-circuit your nerves by focusing on releasing tension. Bring all of your awareness to your body and your breath. Then imagine a photocopy machine is about to scan your body; and wherever the scanner light shines, release tension in those muscles.
Imagine that the scanner begins at your feet. You notice that your toes are trying to grip the floor through your shoes. Release that unnecessary tension. Then the light scans up to your calves. Relax those muscles, too. Imagine the scanner’s warm light then releasing tension all the way up to your brow (are you clenching those eyebrows?). Relax, relax, relax.
With this mental exercise, your breathing will become fuller and calmer. Your relaxed muscles will tell your brain that things are groovy, helping your brain let up on those “let’s get out of here!” chemicals.
Do this before you enter the room, and regularly check in to notice if any tension is creeping back. Then kindly ask your body to release and move on. Releasing unwanted tension changes your energy, your body language, tone of voice and overall presence, to convey confidence.
Get the lay of the land.
People fear that they have to walk into a room and talk to someone right away. That's neither necessary nor advised. Instead, enjoy a few moments scanning the room and being curious about the people you see. Even if these are co-workers you see everyday, take notice.
What’s new or different? What is the energy? If you are walking into a room of strangers, spend time discerning who knows whom. Eavesdrop a little. What groups are forming? What do you notice? When you do this, you kindly allow your brain to stop focusing on the chatter from your inner demons.
It’s okay to go solo.
Being fully present, aware and silent conveys strong confidence. Owning a room doesn’t mean filling it with your voice. You can own a room by confidently observing. People are drawn to other people who look comfortable in their own skin. Needing to attach yourself to a chit-chat buddy quickly can convey weakness.
Small prey need to be part of large numbers; large predators can go solo. Don’t be afraid to enter a room, stand alone, scan and decide whom you want to talk to. You can be much more strategic this way. Hold back from latching on to the first human with a heartbeat that you see. Giving yourself a moment to be still and aware removes the nervous, frantic energy that is telling you to find someone fast.
Expose your soft underbelly.
No, I don't mean take off your shirt. When you stand or sit, don’t let anything obstruct your chest or abdomen. Meaning, don’t cross your arms in from of you. Don’t cling to a clipboard pressed against your chest. And, a slight variation of the same principle: Don’t hunch or angle your body away from the center of the room or the person you are talking to.
The reasoning behind this is primal. When a creature is frightened, it covers up the most vulnerable parts of its body. When a creature wants to assert dominance, it makes itself as big as possible and stands on its hind quarters, risking the exposure of its soft underbelly to communicate, “I’m not scared of you.” For humans, the gesture is subtle but equally important. You can still keep a casual look and keep your soft underbelly open. Put a hand in your pocket. Hold a drink -- though more to your side instead of directly in front of you. Find what’s comfortable to you without blocking your center.
In the end, owning a room is about energy, presence, confidence and stillness. With these easy tips, you will be able to still your previously turbulent energy.