Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nervousness: It's a Piece of Cake!

When it comes to public speaking, nerves are just like audience members - always there, a necessary part of the process and not always pleasant.

However, just like our audience members, nerves can either help you or hurt you depending on how you think about them. Follow these rules to turn handling nervousness into a piece of cake...

C - Change your perspective
Anxiety and excitement are chemically the same thing. The only difference between the two is how you think about them. You can quickly convert your nervousness into excitement by simply changing the way you think about what is going on. This is a great example of "change your mind and the rest will follow." Also, nerves are a necessary part of the process. It is your body's way of telling you this is important, critical, interesting, different than normal, etc. Therefore, to harness the power of this natural response, change your goal from getting rid of your nerves to controlling your nerves. Zig Ziglar said it best, "D0n't get rid of your butterflies. Get them to fly in formation." The rest of the CAKE is about how to control the butterflies.

A - Audience-focused
Get your mind off of you and your content and put your focus on your audience. If you are pacing behind stage or sitting anxiously in class just thinking about how you don't want to mess up or how you wish you could stop your knees from knocking, you are only adding to the problem. You need to decompress. Do this by putting all your thoughts about what is getting ready to happen into the back of your mind and get to thinking about your audience. Talk to them, be in their space, ask them questions, just sit in the room like one of them, etc. It helps to remember your audience wants you to do good. No one likes to sit through poor presentations. They want you to be worth listening to. I know at times it doesn't always feel like it, but they are on your side. Your job is to get on their side.

K - Knowledge
Knowing your stuff top to bottom is the number one way to control your nerves. If you need to memorize your content to reach this level of control, then do so. Some say that memorizing content makes you look like a robot. That is not true. Robotic delivery of memorized content is the enemy here. Does your favorite actor/actress look like a robot on the screen? No. Are their lines memorized? Yes. In the research for my upcoming presentation skills book, Authenticity Rules, I discovered from at least three top-level presentation coaches that many of the best presenters memorize a large portion of their content. The presentation doesn't feel memorized because they invested a large portion of time on their delivery skills.

E - Experience.
The more you do a task, the better your body and brain gets at responding to the emotions and physical elements related to it. Speaking in public is very much a physical, mental and emotional art form. Getting up and speaking A TON is the best medicine for a bad case of the nerves. Of course, you need to be practicing and doing the right things. There are literally millions of golfers who have been golfing for years, but still are horrible golfers because their experience only allowed them to perfect their bad habits. To get good experience, you have to get good coaching. Seek out someone who knows what to look for (the expert eye), have them watch you, coach you and then work on their suggestions. The key here is to find someone who knows what to look for. Everyone has an opinion on what they like or dislike about speakers. Only an expert presentation coach knows HOW to look for what you need to specifically do to get better.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Unfortunately, Rhett, most people don't want to put in the time it takes to successfully deliver a memorized presentation. Memorization itself is hard work; practicing it enough that it flows naturally is a whole other thing.

If my clients are willing to make the effort to give their memorized presentation life, I say go for it. Otherwise, memorizing is a bad idea.

Rhett Laubach said...

Ahhh, you hit on the words I was going to use for this post, Handling Nervousness: It takes hard work, time and effort to make it a piece a cake...