The secret to feeling less nervous

Jane Sheffield
Lead Trainer & Owner
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The most common request I get, without a doubt, is, “Can you help me feel less nervous about presenting”?

In answer to this I have some good news, and some bad. I always start with the bad.

Unfortunately, there is no one single technique I can teach you that will immediately make you feel cool, calm, and collected in any speaking situation. And to be honest, even if I did have that magic suggestion, I wouldn’t recommend aiming for no nerves at all. Nerves help us do a good job. They keep us on our toes.

But the good news is that you can drastically reduce the hold nerves have over you, with a combination of a mind shift, preparation, and practice.

It’s the mind shift that I want to talk about, as for me personally, this has made the biggest difference in how I feel about speaking to a group.

And it’s this….

It’s not about you.

Crazy, I know.

But it’s important to realise that the negative feelings we have around public speaking are mostly driven from a place of ego. A fear of what others think of us.

When our overarching focus and drive is ‘what will my audience think of me’, the chances are we are going to feel nervous and it’s not going to help us.

Here’s why:

1.    It’s unhelpful

Focusing on what others are thinking of you triggers all that fight and flight response stuff. The sweaty hands. The red face. Rapid breathing. Mind blanks. Basically, stage fright. You can read more about that here.

2. It’s inaccurate

It’s very difficult for you to really know what audiences are thinking.  Therefore, how do you gauge your success? So often on my courses I will ask someone post-presentation, “so how do you think that went”? More often than not, the presenter’s perception is far more negative than the audiences (i.e., they get it wrong).

3.    It’s pointless

The reality is, if your audience does think negative thoughts about you while you’re presenting, it is totally out of your control! So, what’s the point in focusing on it?

A much more useful focus to have is your actual message. Your purpose for being in that room; the shift you want to achieve in the minds of your audience.

So, try this – instead of focusing your energy on “What will they think of me?”, focus on what you want to achieve by giving the presentation. For example:

“My goal is to make them understand that this solution, if used correctly, can help them do their jobs”. 

Now, not only is a focus such as this, the ACTUAL reason you are talking to your audience in the first place, but it’s a much healthier mindset for you to have. It allows you to dedicate your preparation time, focus, and energy to the results you want to achieve, rather than how you are being perceived. When you can walk into a room to speak with this mindset – results over perception – it is insanely liberating, and incredibly effective.

The following quote is the answer Kamala Harris gave to a group of schoolgirls who asked what her secret was to being such a confident public speaker:

“When you’re standing up to speak, remember that it’s not about you. If you were on the Titanic and you knew it was about to sink and you’re the only one who knows, are you going to worry about how you look and how you sound”?

No, you aren’t. You are going to just focus on getting that message across.

So, my advice to you is to figure out what your ‘Titanic message’ is and focus on THAT. Your ego can stay at the door.

Stop presenting. Start talking.


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