Nerves are an essential part of our armoury as a speaker. Try to see these nerves as a positive rather than a negative force. Instead of thinking of feeling ‘nervous’ think of feeling ‘excited’…an emotion which has much more positive overtones to it. Here’s how to do it:
Appreciate that nerves are normal and most people will feel them to a greater or lesser extent. The feeling is produced by adrenalin flooding the system helping it to cope with an unknown or potentially dangerous situation. Adrenalin is a powerful substance and can help us to perform sometimes super-human feats. Think of this adrenalin as your friend not your enemy – it should be there. However the adrenalin needs to be controlled and the ‘butterflies need to fly in formation’.
Remember that we all have a Critic and a Coach on our shoulders. The Critic will say negative things to us whilst we are presenting such as: ‘you’re not good enough’, you’re boring’, ‘and the audience are switching off and so forth. The Coach needs to intervene and question this faulty inner dialogue – practise doing this in all situations and ‘bat’ that Critic off your shoulder.
Sometimes presenters find a more senior or experienced audience harder to speak to than a more junior one. This is very normal but think as your audience as equal not better than you. You are the expert in the field you are speaking on and the chances are that you know much more about the subject than they do. Get into the ++ mentality.
Understand what happens to you physically when you get nervous and try and minimise it. For instance the person whose blush starts mid-tummy and eventually covers the neck and throat should always keep the neck covered….scarf, polo neck, high collar etc. The blush is always more evident on the neck area so avoid letting the audience see it.
Remember to breathe before you start. Breathing is the first thing to be affected when we experience nerves so keep control of it by practising breathing deeply and learning to breathe in a controlled way. Remember you do have time to breathe!
Hold the pause for three seconds before you start to speak and breathe, give eye contact directly to your audience and smile. Create likeability with your audience – when they start to smile back you will feel a whole lot better.
Avoid letting the negative inner voice talk. Cut out all the modifying, negative language. Phrases and words such as ‘I’ll try’, ‘perhaps’, ‘might’ can come across as weak and give the game away that you may not be feeling as relaxed as you look.
Preparation and Practice are crucial and an essential component in getting the adrenalin working for you. There should be a 50:50 split between preparation and practice. Most people spend 90% of their time budget preparing and only 10% practising. Ensure your preparation is ‘proper preparation’ – not just producing endless boring slides but thinking about your objective, your audience and the material you will need to include as well as your key messages.
Practice should be standing up and out loud. Most people mutter through their presentation and wonder why it does not go to plan. What we say in our heads is very different to what we say aloud. Your brain does not know the difference between the real and the imagined act so the more you practice ‘for real’ the easier it will be when you stand up in front of your actual audience.
Ensure you have good supportive speaker notes (and by this we don’t mean lots of boring slides). Your audience cannot listen and read at the same time – they can also read faster than you can speak so heavily narrative slides rarely work. Use a notes system like the OnTrack Grid which allows you to see your entire presentation at a glance. It works so well and as the name suggests really keeps you On Track!
Finally remember that as far as the audience is concerned what they see is what they get, so if you LOOK confident, authoritative, and control they will believe you are….they cannot ‘unzip’ you and see how you are really feeling!