Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Navigating nervousness - you can!
Speaking is like playing a sport, learning an instrument or being in a play. It‘s a physical skill that takes repetition and practice till it comes right. And exactly as for sport and musical performance, being well prepared is the only way you’ll pull it off. If you are well practised, nerves may affect how you feel, but are less likely to affect what you do. Nervousness is an internal state. The audience doesn’t know your inner workings. If you could see yourself you’d probably find you look perfectly OK. They won’t even have noticed you were on edge.
I recommend that you rehearse your presentation many times. Then you should rehearse it and rehearse it a few more times.
TV chefs always have a backup dish, “something they prepared earlier”. Why? Because things can (I am tempted to say things WILL) go wrong which you did not anticipate, and you will handle them better if you are prepared.
You need to be familiar with your material and also with the venue. If you have planned how you’ll get up and down or on and off, if you have been able to check out the layout of the room, know where you’ll be seated and standing, what the sight lines are and how to work the AV equipment, you will feel much more confident – and that’s good! Be sure you have time to look at where you will be speaking on the day itself.
One you know your material REALLY well, some simple tips will help you stay calm. Choose whatever woks for you.
• Get some exercise, or a stretch or some yoga
• Arrrange some enjoyable diversions that will help you to feel good on the day. An iPod full of your favourite music, a meal or coffee break in a café you really like, a phone call with your best friend before you leave for the venue…give yourself a treat.
• Find somewhere quiet to focus. Stairwells, lobbies and stage wings are handy for this.
• Settle yourself with deep, regular breathing. Breathe in and …..wait. Breathe out s l o w l y and ……wait. Do this ten times (don’t hyperventilate please) and you will feel more in control.
Some symptoms of nervousness can be dealt with as you speak.
• Anxiety begins to drop after you start. Once you get through the introduction, you should find the rest of the way is easier for you.
• If you are a heavy sweater, dab (don’t wipe) your face with a folded handkerchief.
• Avoid holding a large sheet of paper in a shaky hand. If you can’t use a lectern, use small palm cards, or a kindle or ipad which is too solid and won’t wobble.
• Trembling hands should be loosely clasped in front of you or hidden behind a lectern.
• A sea of faces is less scary when you eyeball people one at a time. They feel the connection and it’s more conversational.
When something goes wrong
Symptoms of nerves may make you dry up, go blank, lose your train of thought, mess up your cues or your aids, stumble over your words or even lose the power of speech entirely. I have seen speakers faint, freeze, flee the stage to vomit, drop their notes, press the wrong button and plunge us into darkness, send the slides backwards not forwards …. to name just some of the more predictable problems.
If any of these things happens, look at the audience and smile. Smiling puts you on the same side. It makes you feel better, and in control. Audiences love a smiling speaker, and it tells them that despite the blip, you’re still in charge of things. Take a break, have a sip of water, fix the problem and restart when you’re ready. In every case I’ve seen, the audience was patient, concerned and tolerant of speakers who had to manage such a public ordeal.