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When the heat is on - take a breather; Even PMs get into a sweat under stress but help is at hand, says Gabrielle Fagan.

The perils of sweating, shaking and stammering during highly stressful occasions can happen to anybody - as Prime Minister Tony Blair proved recently when his speech to the Labour Party conference left him drenched in sweat.

His embarrassment was matched by the former Tory Chancellor Kenneth Clarke who also soaked his shirt at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth.

Most of us have at one time or another been embarrassed by shaking hands, sweaty palms or quavering voice as we face a prospective employer or a sea of faces in a hall gathered to hear our presentation.

An American survey showed that most people fear public speaking more than death. But according to Edinburgh-based corporate psychologist Ben Williams, there are a number of ways to help control your reaction and ensure a successful outcome.

He says: 'Tony Blair suffered an extreme reaction to a highly-pressurised situation but politicians are just ordinary people with an extraordinary desire for approval and public visibility.

'Most people suffer from nerves before public speaking to large or small audiences and react in a variety of ways from developing a tic to blushing and stuttering. These are often hereditary characteristics.

'Ninety per cent of the time they will not be noticeable to anyone, even though you may be acutely embarrassed by them. In fact a little bit of nervousness can endear you to an audience as it reveals vulnerability. It can also demonstrate good qualities like sincerity, enthusiasm and passion.

'Ideally, try to ignore any of those irritating symptoms and focus completely on your audience. Make eye contact with them and project yourself to them. Often this calms and reduces panic and stress, which is what triggers higher body temperature producing blushing and sweating.'

Williams' stress-busting tips are to wear smart clothing but underneath wear a vest or a thin layer to absorb perspiration. American President Bill Clinton successfully does this.

He also advises against drinking alcohol or coffee as both can have a volatile affect on adrenaline, the chemical released when we're pressurised.

Instead, drink fruit juice and eat only a light meal of energy-giving carbohydrate foods such as pasta, bread and rice.

If you do have an extreme perspiration problem, which deodorants can't prevent, tape damp sponges under your armpits or wipe face and wrists occasionally with a damp, not dry, handkerchief. This cools the bloodstream. But do it confidently and with a flourish like opera star Pavarotti who incorporates it into his show.

One famous speaker has a frozen packet of peas concealed out of sight on the podium, so he can rest his hands on it for a quick cool down.

If your hands shake, grip the cuff of your shirt or suit, which eases tremors or cup your hand around your opposite elbow, squeeze and let the other hand and arm fall forward toward the audience. This is a relaxed, friendly gesture and is also preferable to jerky arm movements emphasising points.

Agony aunt and TV presenter Suzie Hayman, has a postbag full of letters from people who are nervous at the prospect of speaking in public or cannot face interviews.

She advises owning up to those embarrassing symptoms by using a pre-practised list of one liners.

'Merely saying, with a smile, 'Is it me or is it hot in here', when you blush or sweat makes you sound and feel confident and in control. Deal with word stumbles with a quick, 'Sorry, can I read that again?'.

One of the commonest symptoms of nerves and tension is forgetting to breathe, says presentation consultant Claire Walmsley at Boxclever.

She advises clients shortly before an event to sit down, breathe deeply in through the nose, hold on a count of four, then expel air through the mouth. Repeat five times, before standing up slowly.
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Title Annotation:Health
Author:Fagan, Gabrielle
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 14, 2000
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