Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Frozen at the microphone. Holding onto the podium for dear life. Physically shaking with nervous tension. Rapid-fire speech. Inserting non-words, uhh, umm, and ahh continually. Losing their place. Quavering voice. Deadly monotone. Shifting weight from leg to leg – almost dancing. The list goes on.
Teaching presentation skills over the past 25 years has exposed us to nearly every form of nervous behavior imaginable. And every time I see someone who is battling their nerves, I feel deeply for them. It actually hurts to see someone so shaken up that they cannot communicate effectively.
And it feels so good to give them some ways to work with whatever it is their nervous system is doing to them.
There must be dozens of articles online that tell people what they should do to “Conquer the Fear.”
Unfortunately, these bromides don’t work well, if at all, because they are only the WHAT, not the HOW of taking effective action.
Experts tell us that we are nervous because we fear judgment of people in the audience. We fear making mistakes. We imagine all sorts of things going wrong and looking bad in front of others. The experts then tell us to use our rationality to overcome such fears. They make all sorts of thoughtful sounding arguments and include ideas like “practice, practice, practice,” or prepare until you are comfortable. They tell us to avoid caffeine (and alcohol – duh,) to go to the bathroom, don’t present when you’re hungry, use breathing exercises, and on and on.
These recommendations are about as effective in most cases as telling people what NOT TO DO. While technically correct, they are useless. You might as well tell somebody “don’t be nervous,” or “don’t use non-words as connectors between thoughts.” They know that. Reinforcing the negative does nothing to help them stop doing the nervous behavior.
Why not try some thoughtful activities that work in other places, under tremendous social and financial pressure? What do these three people have in common?
They see the desired result happening – before it happens. Brady visualizes the speed and trajectory of the ball in flight, sees it landing in the hands of the receiver, before he lets go of the ball. Jordan Spieth sees each putt rolling in exactly the correct arc at the correct speed – before he moves the putter toward the ball. Stephen Curry visualizes the path of the ball going through the basket before he shoots.
They use visualization every time they practice the activity – and they practice a lot! They practice because they want to be great at what they do, not because they fear poor performance. And Brady, unlike the other two, is dependent on receivers to catch his passes. He even helps his receivers learn to visualize as well; he spends many extra hours helping them ‘see’ where they need to be to catch all the types of passes he may need to throw in various situations. The mind create the path to success.
How can you use this in making a presentation? Imagine that you are the director – of you as the presenter. You see in advance what confidence looks like for posture, movement, and overall presence. Before you speak a word, you see and hear yourself combining effective body language and verbal variety to create interest. You see yourself enjoying the very specific actions necessary to deliver the message that your audience needs and wants to hear.
See our blog from April 4, 2017 to see how ideas used by the great gymnast Gabby Douglas can help you with your presentations.