How To Trick Your Mind to Stay Calm on Stage

March 16, 2015

heart-rate-and-public-speaking-blogDid you know that your psychological state has an equal or greater impact on your heart rate as physical exertion, according to a study by Research Gate? I’ll explain.

I was getting dinner earlier this winter on a cold and rainy night while visiting Philadelphia. I was unfamiliar with the city, it was dark, and the part of downtown I was exploring looked a bit sketchy. Was I safe? Most definitely. Did I feel safe? Absolutely not. The end result: I achieved an escalated heart rate caused by my mind rather than my body.

According to a study by U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, he states that the higher the heart rate, the more humans rely on instincts. Unfortunately, our instincts are often wrong and that can be disastrous for any presenter. When on stage or in front of room, your head must be clear and not rely on these primitive instincts.

Grossman’s study ultimately discovered that every human has 5 levels of heart rates. This is important because for the task of presenting, these are generally going to be psychologically induced as compared to physically created.


White (60-80 beats)
This is a normal heart rate where thought processes and motor skills are operating efficiently.

Yellow (80-115 beats)
When fear or anxiety sets in, one’s adrenaline fires up the heart, which begins to enter the yellow zone. It’s the equivalent heart rate of walking down a dark alley.

Red (115-145 beats)
This is an optimal heart rate when working out (not presenting). A person usually has an increase in strength, reaction time, and speed but will experience a loss in motor skills.

Grey (145-175 beats)
This range is really only for the trained or elite. It’s not too different from red other than the the fact experienced or elite athletes can stay in this stage for a prolonged period of time.

Black (175+)
When someone loses control of their bowel movements and only wants to run away.


Curious how to stay in the Yellow Zone? Here are few simple suggestions:

1. Practice the 4x4 breathing technique - 4 seconds in, hold for 4 seconds, 4 seconds out, hold for another 4 seconds. Repeat.

2. Visualize your presentation and anticipate the possible challenges.

3. Control the voice in your head with positive self-talk.

These are 3 very easy strategies that can make a radical impact on controlling your mind, body, and ultimately your heart rate.

As a presenter, understanding the psychological impact on your heart rate is critical to whether you will win or lose on stage. You need to keep your outside stimuli in check and aim to stay in the Yellow Zone or below at all times. Anything above this zone is an indication that you are freaking out and possibly out of control. Stay calm.


Author Bio

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University.

Follow the conversation and connect with Scott on LinkedIn or Twitter.