How do you handle nerves in a presentation…just tell them to go away?

nervesIt took me by surprise.  One minute I was feeling pleasantly excited, anticipating.  And the next? Bang. Pow. Whop. Fear like I haven’t felt since I abseiled down a tall building.  Or did my first stand up.

It’s not unusual to get nervous before standing up to speak in front of others.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s necessary to some degree.  But I’ll explain and qualify that later.

What caught me on the hop was the intensity and the negativity of the emotion.  Ok, so I WAS delivering my very first TEDx talk.  And there were a hundred people out there.  And it was being recorded.  And my husband and nephew and a whole crowd of friends there too.  So I had expected to feel some colly-wobbles.  But nothing on this scale.

It might be helpful to share how I normally deal with nerves.

First of all, I rarely label them as nerves. It was a tip given to me by a mentor and has served me well over the years.  I do notice what physical manifestation of the ‘nerves’ are and acknowledge the science: a good proportion of this feeling is as a result of adrenaline being pumped around my body. Instead of labelling this as ‘bad’, ‘terrible’, ‘awful’ I like to think of this as my ‘Im ready for this ‘ signal.  It doesn’t always make the nerves disappear entirely, but it does give me more choices about how I deal with them.  Focussing on what I AM going to do instead of focussing on getting rid of them or ignoring them or pretending they’re not there is a powerful and liberating way of thinking.

Secondly, reminding myself of what the audience needs to hear from me and spending some time thinking about things from their perspective is also helpful. It means that I am starting to build rapport before I’ve even stood up. Importantly it gets me out of my own head – you know the tiny, insistent inner voice which worries about whether you’ll fall over, forget your words, disappoint people or have your trousers fall down!

I also have learned that mentally checking through the beginning opening sentences, the links that take me through each section of the presentation and the ending acts as a reinforcement and gives me the confidence and the reassurance that I do know what I am going to say and the overall direction of the message.  After all, I haven’t got the time to do a full mental run through just before I stand up to speak.

So, of course, I did all this but the importance and the excitement and the significance of the event meant that other strategies were going to be needed to be employed. Despite my focus on the audience and the mental run through, that Inner Critic was getting into full swing.  “Everyone has been amazing – just up to you then to mess it up then!’,

‘What makes you think that these people would want to listen to you – who do you think you are!’

” This time, Catherine you are going to get found out for the fraud you really are’

By the way, I would NEVER dream of saying this anyone else so it’s interesting that I ended up saying it to myself…

And alongside this cruel, negative onslaught my hands decided they would like to shake like leaves on a tree and my heart clearly wanted to burst forth from my new wrap around dress…

Extra reinforcements required!

Here’s what I did – what would you do

I drank a glass of water to rehydrate, to give my hands something to do, to cool me down.  I sipped slowly and focused on the sensation of the water as it slid down my throat, the action of swallowing, the cool of the glass against my hand

I bent over, swept my hands down and raised them above head height over and over and relished the stretch and freedom ( I was behind the stage at this time I have to say so didn’t alarm the audience although the 40 strong children’s choir waiting to go on after my speech looked somewhat taken aback!)

I smiled…and breathed…and nodded…

And noticed as my body gained my control over itself and as my mind calmed and readied itself for the big moment.

And you know what?  It was ok.  In fact, it was better than OK.  That experience of delivering my speech was astonishing and one I will never forget. If you want to read more, here is the link to the first in a series of four blogs I wrote about my TEDx experience. And another and another and another

And it is worth remembering. The time we go on stage and our body and mind aren’t ready is the time we’ll make mistakes or be too cocky or fail to connect with our audiences. What we need to do is get wise to the signals our body gives us and welcome them aboard! That way our performances will be full of energy, focussed and allow us to deliver to our very best.

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