dealing with your nerves

Dealing with Nerves

Most people feel anxious or nervous before speaking in public. For many people, this anxiety can extend to formal team meetings or presentations to colleagues, even if such events occur regularly.

If you are one of the many people who feel nervous before a presentation, you will probably know that this nervousness can present itself in a variety of different forms. Symptoms can be as mild as sweaty palms, dry mouth, blushing or a thumping heartbeat, through to physical illnesses such as shakes, vomiting or diarrhoea (to name just a few!). 

Dealing with nerves as a public speaker

No wonder public speaking is considered to be up there with some of the greatest fears in the world! These awful symptoms can significantly reduce the amount of enjoyment you derive from communicating at a high level with others.

Well it’s time for some good news. Presenting can be fun! Managing nerves is mostly to do with your approach, regardless of whether you are presenting at work or to a huge conference audience.

Fight or flight

In 1915, the concept of fight or flight was developed by Dr Walter Connon to describe an animal’s response to threat. Essentially you can think of it like this: when you are feeling nervous and faced with stress (presenting is very stressful for many people) you have two choices:

1. Fight it. You can fight it, in other words, you can soldier on and push through your discomfort to beat the feeling. If you fight, you can make the most of the opportunities that present, and step up and be heard so people know what you are capable of.

2. Run away. You could choose to flee, that is, you could run away, avoid presenting, and delegate the job to a colleague. If you flee you will avoid the conflict, but you will also pass up the chance to showcase your professional expertise so no one will know what you actually think or feel about the subject and you may find yourself being passed over for future opportunities.

Couple this understanding of ‘fight or flight’ from Dr Connon with a concept described by Dr Hans Selye, who discovered and documented the fact that as humans we experience two main kinds of stress. Dr Selye called them distress and eustress.

Distress is the bad or negative kind of stress that weakens and disables you.

distress or feeling stressed

Eustress is a positive or good stress that enables you and makes you powerful.

The main way to turn your distress into eustress is to use the power of your mind and your self-talk, and reframe in your mind that you are a strong and confident presenter and you will do a great job today.

Don’t even think about picturing your audience naked!

You can use a number of excellent techniques to reduce your nerves and increase your enjoyment when presenting, and they don’t include imagining your audience naked! What a laugh! I’ve been told stories time and time again of presenters who were told by their boss to imagine their audience naked, and they either froze on the stage or felt more nervous than ever. 

Related post: 5 Tips to Keep In Mind When Planning Your Next Public Speech

In fact, unbelievably I overheard a mother advising her 5 year old to imagine everyone naked (this was the best advice she could think of I suppose) at the local school public speaking competition this year – OMG! Imagining your audience naked won’t work, so please don’t do it!

There is no single magic formula or shortcut that is a panacea for a lack of confidence when presenting. If you feel you are lacking in confidence, let me tempt you towards increasing confidence by briefly touching on some of the tips for developing more confidence when presenting. It’s time to consider a change of approach. Begin by writing a slogan in big letters: 


And then try the following tips:

1. Analyse your audience

2. Structure your message

3. Do a deep breathing exercise.

4. Relax your muscles

5. Focus fully on the audience

6. Use the power of your mind

7. Get feedback

Taking steps to eliminate your limiting beliefs, being yourself, and actively seeking positive feedback is also important. You will also better manage presentation nerves if you understand your audience, prepare thoroughly, rehearse, warm up your mind, voice and body, and connect with your audience by extending the self and using what is known as ‘whites of the eyes’ eye contact.

For more information on how to do all these things and present at work with confidence, clarity and charisma please consider attending one of my 2-day Persuasive Presenting Master Classes.

© Michelle Bowden 2020.  Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media.

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