I like to think that working out and public speaking go hand in hand. They are both tiring, they both demand a lot of effort, and speakers definitely benefit from being in good shape.
Think about it: after you give a presentation, do you feel as fresh as a daisy or are you tired out? Do you emerge from a talk feeling energized and ready to go but then crash a few hours later? When I’m working with someone who is putting real effort into their talks, at some point they’ll comment on the actual physical exertion of speaking. “I’m exhausted after a talk! All I want to do is take a nap!”
I always sympathize with them. I always crash once the adrenaline rush I get from presenting wears off. I’ve given talks that have made me feel like a truck ran me over. A couple speakers I know make sure they always have time between presentations to take a nap. Seasoned pros get tired in the same way that novices do.
Speaking is tiring. It’s mentally tiring, it’s physically tiring. It’s like running a marathon while writing an essay.
Many of us underestimate both the mental and physical strain of speaking. On the brain side of things, delivering a speech is a combination of remembering a dense pack of content, improvising new and interesting turns of phrase, adjusting the content to fit the mood of the room, answering questions, and making conscious choices about vocal delivery and expression, all while controlling that bit of nervousness (or sometimes downright panic) we all get when we are on stage.
Physically, there is a full on athletic performance happening.There’s the work involved in breathing and vocalizing, both of which engage your core. There is lots of flexing and engaging and sustained isometric contractions when you’re controlling your breathing to speak. There is gesturing with your arms, striding around your presentation space, and using full-body signals to enhance your message. What about your face? The muscles there are small, yes, but they’re pretty darn active right now, too. And on top of that, your cardio system is already getting a workout from all the physical excitement created by the emotional energy you are putting into the presentation.
Now keep all this up for anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours.
Like I said, it’s running a marathon while writing an essay (and then presenting that essay to a class).
Tony Robbins said that he wore a fitness tracker during one of his weekend events. The physical effort of so much enthusiastic speaking ended up being worth several marathons. Maybe you aren’t hurtling around the stage to the same degree as Robbins, but with all the combined mental and physical work described above, you are still doing enough to be thoroughly worn out by the end of your talk.
Different people will get fatigued to a different degree when they speak, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who isn’t tired either immediately after a talk or in the few hours following one. And I’ve found that the more comfortable and confident someone is when they speak, the more energy they put into each talk. In other words, the better you get, the more calories you can expect to burn while speaking.
Want to get an edge on the fatigue? Treat preparing for a talk the same way an athlete prepares for a competition. Get in shape. Work out. Get lots of sleep the night before and fuel yourself appropriately so both your body and brain have the resources they need. The exhausting work that is speaking is great impetus to treat your body and mind with care and respect.
And if that’s not a good enough reason to do a few extra push-ups each night before bed, I don’t know what is!