The Art and Science of Presenting-Episode 7 — The Mindful Way to Managing Nerves
“I was a tiger, a good fighter, in good shape, but I was always nervous before boxing matches.”
Even the twice heavy weight boxing champion of the world got nervous before a fight and he didn’t have to say a word.
When you were a small child 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 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
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; where is the logic in that?
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 your first 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 any possible threat of being removed from the group would threaten that as far as our brain was concerned. If we stood out in the wrong way by saying something stupid or offensive or simply not meeting the expectations of the group we were in trouble. 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 your audience and the more you make it about you the more anxious you will feel.
Your only task is to focus on the fact that you have something really important to say that will make a difference to their lives in some way.
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.
The simple process of introducing yourself to a few people, smiling and exchanging a few words will help to put your mind at ease.
3. Know 3 things
– The room
Arrive early and walk around the room the room you will be speaking in, become familiar with it. Take a few minutes to simply stand where you will be speaking, look around and breathe, and smile.
– Your content
Practice your speech or presentation and keep doing so it until you can present it with ease.
– How to breathe
Breathe in slowly for a count of 5, exhale to the count of 5 and repeat that for a whole minute.
Why you’re giving the presentation in the first place, the difference what you will have to say will make to your audience and how you want them to feel.
5. Be an 8 of clubs
Imagine holding a deck of playing cards with the Royalty removed. Each card 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, imagine what it looks and feel like to be as high as an 8 in confidence and be that number while you speak.
It may sound ridiculous but it works.
6. Be present
Find some willing friends, family members or colleagues to practice being really present with. Stand in front of them for two minutes in complete and utter silence and just make eye contact and be with them.
Try not to think about anything at all, just do your best to be with them.
It will feel very weird and uncomfortable at first but that works too.
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.
Imagine you are having a one-on-one conversation with them and as soon as you are comfortable focus on the rest of the people in the room and make eye contact with as many as you can.
8. Memorize your opening
The first minute is always the hardest.
Having a well prepared, effective, engaging open will lessen anxiety dramatically.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me that ‘the first minute is the hardest’
Do whatever it takes to remember the first minute.
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 so challenge them.
Tell yourself that they are extremely unlikely to happen and even if they did you can deal with it.
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 nervous energy as excitement, 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.
People rarely look as nervous as you feel so take some comfort in that fact.
12. Take it out on the wall
Stand about 12 inches 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.
Human beings yawn and look at their watches all of the time, it’s not personal.
14. Focus on connecting, not presenting
It’s far easier to connect with people when you’re having a conversation so focus on doing that rather than presenting to them.
It’s hard to be anxious when you are having a pleasant conversation.
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.
If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.