“I was a tiger, a good fighter, in good shape, but I was always nervous before boxing matches.”
So even the twice heavy weight boxing champion of the world got nervous before a fight and he didn’t even have to say a word.
Since you were a small child, way before you started work, how many times did you have to stand up in front of a group of people and with their undivided attention; i.e. their eyes solely on you had to say something interesting and meaningful.
Well, it may have happened once or twice at school but the likelihood is that if it did you were probably a nervous, nauseous quivering wreck. Then one day you find yourself all grown up at work and your boss expects you to stand up regularly in front of people to inspire them to do something they really can’t be bothered to do.
It’s not natural
There, I said it.
It’s true, it’s just not a normal day to day activity we are used to doing, yet the moment it becomes a requirement we are expected to be brilliant at it. As Mark Twain once said “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”
I still believe that to be true as I’ve been presenting for many years and I still get nervous to this very day.
The difference between me and the person who is a quivering wreck is that I learned a long time ago how to manage those butterflies to get them to fly in formation. It’s something you can do too.
The Mindful Presenter knows how to channel their public speaking anxiety to enhance rather than hinder their performance.
Remember how anxious you were moments before giving your first ‘proper’ kiss?
Well once you learned how to do it you didn’t want to stop, all it took was a little courage and lots of practice and it’s the same with presenting, although without the kissing.
You also need to remember that strictly speaking it’s not your fault, it’s your brains. It’s the way our brains have functioned since the beginning of time.
Your brain is constantly scanning the environment looking for threats because as far as it’s concerned the only thing that matters to it is survival.
Thousands of years ago being part of a group was essential to our survival and the possible threat of being removed from the group would threaten our survival.
Even way back then that could easily have happened if we stood out in the wrong way by saying something stupid or offensive or simply not meeting the expectations of the group. So today when you’re standing in front of all of those faces staring at you ready to open your mouth your brain says:
‘If I say something stupid, I’m history’
Even though over thousands of years we have evolved to not think like that our brain hasn’t read the memo so unfortunately it still does.
The good news is there’s plenty we can do.
Firstly though, don’t try to imagine your audience naked. I don’t know anyone who is that good at visualizing and if you were it’s likely to do you more harm than good anyway.
Here are our top tips for managing your nerves before you speak.
1. Take care of your audience
Remember that your presentation isn’t about you, it’s about them. You have something really important to say that will make a difference to their lives in some way.
Don’t make it about you, make it about them
2. Mingle with the audience before you speak.
Try to meet as many people as you can before-hand just to introduce yourself and have a quick chat.
3. Know 3 things
– The room
Arrive early and walk around the room the room you will be speaking in, become familiar with it.
– Your content
Practice your speech or presentation and revise it until you can present it with ease.
– How to breathe
Breathe in slowly, hold your breath for 4 to 5 seconds, then slowly exhale.
Why you’re giving the presentation in the first place.
5. Be an 8 of clubs
Imagine holding a deck of playing cards and each number from Ace to ten represents a level of confidence with Ace representing the lowest confidence and 10 the highest.
The next time you speak carry with you the 8 of clubs in your pocket or purse and be that number while you speak.
6. Be present
Find some willing friends, family members or colleagues to practice being really present with. It will feel very weird and uncomfortable at first but it works. Stand in front of them for two minutes in complete and utter silence and just make eye contact and be with them.
7. Find the friendly faces
Focus on the warm faces in the audience as you first begin to speak. The ones that look like they already like you and imagine you are having a one-on-one conversation with them.
8. Memorize your opening
The first minute is always the hardest. Having a well prepared, effective, engaging open will lessen anxiety dramatically.
9. Challenge the ‘ What if’s;
What if you forget what to say?
What if your audience doesn’t like you?
What if they ask you a question you can’t answer?
Each of these situations would be unpleasant, but you would survive.
10. Acknowledge the source
Your fear is not that you don’t know your subject it’s that you don’t know what will happen when you step up to speak. Reframe that as part of the fun and learning opportunity of presenting.
11. Remember they can’t see your nervousness
You might think your neck is bright red or that you are constantly saying ‘err’ but it’s more than likely that your audience haven’t got a clue that you are as nervous as you feel inside. You never look as nervous as you feel.
12. Take it out on the wall
Stand about 18″ away from a wall and place your palms flat on it.
Push against the wall remembering to breathe.
Do this a few times, and notice the difference.
13. Don’t make assumptions
If someone yawns, looks at their watch or whispers to the person seated next to them don’t assume they are bored. That’s just what people do.
14. Focus on connecting, not presenting
It’s far easy to connect with people when you’re having a conversation so focus on doing that rather than presenting to them.
When we stand in front of a group of people we are trying to influence in some way our reputation and character can often be perceived as being at risk.
That means it’s entirely normal to feel nervous before speaking to any audience.
I’ve never yet met a speaker who doesn’t want to look good or doesn’t care about his or her performance and it’s precisely that caring that elevates our anxiety.
Try out some of these tried and tested tips to see what works for you.
Watch out for Episode 8 of The Art and Science of Presenting where we will look at making your stories come to life.