“We are in an age of unprecedented change, it’s a ‘revolutionary’ time to be alive! The question we need to be asking ourselves is - ‘Am I leading that change?’ I believe we all have a choice to step up into personal, professional and social leadership. We have a choice to become agents for change, amplifiers, thought leaders to upgrade our thinking and lead our very own revolutions.”

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Entries in nervousness (2)


You're on before you're on

Many public speakers get nervous before a presentation. If your nervous tension disappears after a few minutes of speaking, then you simply have “starter’s gun” nerves. It is this that makes most people pace nervously in the wings before they get up to speak. If this is you, it may be helpful to put the image of a sprinter and starter’s gun in mind, but make sure that the gun went off well before you started speaking.

Here are a few ways that can help to get your session started before you're actually on stage:

1. If possible, mingle beforehand with the audience. Ask questions that get them on topic and get you thinking about your message.

2. Put a topic handout on the seats so that people can get into your message and what you are all about before you start speaking.

3. Play music to warm up the room.

4. Send out an email to attendees letting them know who you are and what the session is going to be about.

5. If you are speaking at a venue-based conference, consider a pre-event room-drop of handouts relevant to your topic.

You get to choose when your session actually starts.



The patterns of nervous tension

The whole thing about getting nervous when you speak is serious and maybe not something that ever truly goes away. And maybe that's the way it's meant to be. I was at my doctors the other day and she said to me, "Matt you are showing all kinds of stress symptoms in your body'. I thought it was a strange thing to say. Just before I stepped into her rooms, I was thinking how great my life is and how happy and content I am. So I looked at her and said all that and more. She went on to explain how that may be so but my body was exhibiting the stress symptoms of Soldiers who spend time without leave in active duty. So I said ‘NOW seriously Doc, I fly in a plane, step onto a stage, tell people what I think, they clap (often loudly while standing) I go home and that's it, it's nowhere near the same as soldiering and living with life and death decisions.' She went onto say that while that may be true, the effects of what I do are perceived by the body in much the same way. I guess I' ll be drinking more tea and less coffee now and taking time for a little more R&R.

Now as interesting as all this personal health stuff may/may not be, I am making a point. How could I be so out of touch with the simple stress response of my human body? Clearly the nerves have not gone away, so I must have found a way to deal with them. Because I don't feel ‘nervous' per se when I speak. I am energised, I get into a state but I would not have called it nervous. If there are butterflies in my stomach nowadays then now they fly in formation. So, again, how could I be so out of touchwith my body's stress response?

With this question in my mind I started to ask my Keynote Speaking Coaching Clients what they were thinking about when they were nervous. After several dozen of these interviews I saw patterns emerge; Patterns of Nervous Tension.

It's all about what you focus on when you get nervous. I notice that those who do this speaking thing full time or at least a lot have found a way to shift their focus from things that make them nervous and onto things that are useful.

I see five rings of attention. And they exist in an evolutionary spread. It is not that one level is replaced by a higher level, but rather you incorporate all 5 levels of attention when you really start to master this getting nervous thing and replace it with getting energised and ready.

The 5 Rings of Nervous Tension Ring 1: SELF
When you focus on ‘you' when you spea
k, you are bound to get undone. In your head this becomes ‘I' issues - I am not prepared, I am not qualified, I am not wearing clothes that make me comfortable. I like to think that these worries are not some kind of narcissism but rather the natural result of being in front of so many people. First step; get over yourself. At this ring you should quickly coach yourself and replace the negative self talk with a question, ‘what can I offer that might be of service to the room?'

Most advice you get on how to handle nerves comes from this centre of attention. Well meaning advice such as ‘picture your audience naked' and ‘stare at their foreheads' are simply not helpful. It's a simple distraction strategy to overcome nerves. That's OK if you're simply going for the 15 minute once in a lifetime, sit down without embarrassing yourself speech. As a tribe of people committed to being World Class Presenters though, you need a more successful coping strategy than simply survival.

This is the first of the elevating rings. The outer three rings of CONVERSATION, MESSAGE and PROCESS all work together to help you truly manage your internal state and keep an appropriate level of arousal and focus without becoming ‘hamstrung' by sweaty palms. The Conversation state is about getting into dialogue with the audience. It may mean opening with questions, in a smaller audience asking them what they already know or think on your topic. With larger audiences you might send a survey out in advance polling their opinion and asking them what their biggest challenge is regarding your area of expertise. I often use rhetorical questions with very large audiences to start what is a two-way conversation with only me speaking.

You have to have something to say worth listening to. Seems obvious right? It's amazing though with the survival mindset, we are OK saying something obvious, already understood and easily read or reviewed outside of the live experience. When preparing message for the live audience, spend more time on the words, the key ideas and the ways you can use repetitive variety to bring the thoughts from your mind to theirs.

Start to think about how you say what you are saying. Develop a third eye perspective where you begin to watch the science and art of oration. With this ‘student' view you begin to have an out of body experience when you speak. You become detached from the words and start to look at the way. It becomes a Zen like experience as you float metaphorically above yourself speaking and you have an expanded consciousness/awareness of all that is going on around you. You notice little nuances like that guy in the third row who straightened his tie; The CEO nodding in agreement to your message; The CFO on her ‘crack'berry emailing the accounts department to hold off on paying the catering bill. The trick is to stay engaged and connected to what is happening in the room and have a range of techniques you can access to change the direction, energy and feeling in the room.

When you are in control of your internal dialogue of self, aware of the needs of others in the room, engaged in a conversation with the room, delivering a message they value in a way that is compelling there is simply no time to get nervous. So, start from the outer rings and work back, rings 5,4,3 and then 2 and 1 kind of take care of themselves.

Matt Church

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