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Nerves and Nerve

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Painting of gladiators entering the arena

First of all, nerves are normal.

The first few times you step out in front of an audience, it can feel like being a gladiator stepping out into the arena, whose life depends on a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the most prominent figure in the crowd. It can take a lot of nerve to perform under your best under those conditions.

Whenever you enter potentially threatening situation – such as standing up in front of an audience – your body releases adrenaline in order to boost your energy and alertness so that you can perform at your best. Problems only arise if you start to fight this, by squashing down your feelings and try to force yourself to ‘stay calm and in control’.

Audiences don’t want to see someone who is calm and in control. They want to see someone who is excited and enthusiastic to be there, talking to them.

So instead of trying to squash the energy down, allow yourself to go with the flow. Don’t tell yourself you’re ‘nervous’ — call it ‘excitement’ instead. Not so scary, is it?

The real problem doesn’t come from being energised and aroused — it comes when we retreat into our heads and anxious thoughts, playing and replaying imaginary disaster movies, where we see ourselves delivering a terrible presentation in front of a bored or hostile audience.

The good news is, the more presentations you give (and survive!) the more familiar you become with the situation, the less adrenaline your body releases, and the more relaxed you will be. So if you suffer from nerves, this should get better with time. And here are some things you can do to speed the process up.

Forget Confidence — Go for Enthusiasm

Just about every client who comes to me for coaching on presentation skills tells me they want to be more confident in front of an audience. I tell them to forget about confidence and concentrate on tapping into their enthusiasm for the subject.

You can be very confident without being a very good presenter. Would you want to attend a presentation by this guy?

Darth Vader looking fierce.

Photo by Official Star Wars Blog

Enthusiasm is much more engaging and interesting. I’d love to hear what this guy has to say:

Darth Vader making a funny gesture, flapping his hands by his ears.

Photo by ME

For more on this subject, see my article 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm Is Better Than Confidence.


Tapping into Enthusiasm

When preparing to go on stage, ask yourself:

Why do you care about this?
How do you feel about it?
What’s the most shocking part?
Which part makes you smile?

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Staying Calm Under Pressure

Amaravati Buddhist Monastery

1. In the days/weeks before the presentation

Instead of disaster movies, play ‘success movies’ in your imagination. Visualise making a successful presentation, feeling enthusiastic and energised, and making a powerful connection with the audience.

2. In the minutes/seconds before the presentation

Practice walking meditation — a simple technique to send to your awareness in your body, which will help you stay present, alert and calm (but still energised) throughout your presentation.

For instructions on practising walking meditation, read these articles:

How to Do Walking Meditation

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation becomes much more powerful if you practise it regularly every day. The great thing about it is that once you’ve learnt to do it, you can use it anytime — even in the middle of the presentation itself.

Whenever I’ve had to deliver presentations in high-pressure situations, walking meditation has been one of the most important elements of my presentation. Make it part of your presenting toolkit — the day will come when you’ll be really glad of it.

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