In my broadcast coaching work, I constantly encounter introverts who have an inexplicable urge to put themselves in front of millions of people on a daily basis. It is brutal. It is a struggle. It is exhausting. Sometimes the nerves can be crippling.
Even seasoned pros struggle with being nervous. How do they project a sense of relaxation and ease when adrenaline is pumping through their veins?
What are the outward signs that someone is nervous?
- shortness of breath
- running out of breath
- a quivering voice
- a voice that breaks
- a dry mouth
- a monotone delivery
- a fast rate of speech
- body language that is small and tight
- repetitive gestures
- and the list goes on
What is happening?
The feeling of nervousness – or even just excitement and the rush of adrenaline that mimics nervousness – results in a “fight or flight” response in the body. We tense up. We start to breathe in a high, shallow manner. Our shoulders creep up towards our ears and our heads shift forward. The jaw tightens. This response is helpful if we are in the jungle getting ready to run away from a wild animal, but in a public speaking arena, it can be catastrophic.
So what can you do about it?
Here are a few strategies to help you get a handle on the nervous energy so that you can focus on the job at hand.
Spend time focusing on your breathing.
You want to feel your stomach expand as you inhale and collapse as you exhale.
Try to keep the chest and shoulders relatively still.
Don’t take a huge breath, just take as much as you need.
Try breathing in for 4 seconds and then breathing out for 4 seconds.
Breathe in through your nose and out through puckered lips to help you feel the breath as it leaves the body.
Here is a great TEDx video by Belisa Vranich to give you an idea of what this should look like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sgb2cUqFiY
Tighten up all of your muscles, all of them.
Hold that tension for 5 seconds.
Let it go.
Try rolling your shoulders back.
Try shaking out your hands and arms.
If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk or read her book Presence, do yourself a favor and check it out. She discusses a set of power poses that, when held for 2 minutes, make you feel less stressed and more powerful. You will be amazed at how much more confident you feel when you use her poses.
Preparation and practice are crucial.
Actually practice out loud – not just in your head. Your body will remember the practice and take over for you in times of stress.
Visualization is a wonderful tool and can be used in conjunction with practice, but actual physical and vocal practice will do so much for you.
Focus on your story and your audience:
Instead of thinking about how you are doing, focus on your intention. What do you want the audience to do or think or feel as a result of hearing you speak?
Who are you telling the story to?
Why is your story important?
Get the focus off of you and onto your audience.
Of course, the impact of nerves weakens with repetition. Until that time comes, try the suggestions above so that you begin to have a routine, a ritual that you can rely on.