nerves of steel or just nervous?

I recently did a post on public speaking called the one skill to develop. Yesterday I was asked, “How do you not get nervous when doing a presentation?” It’s a great question that got me to thinking and I realized the answer is not what one might expect. I don’t have any tips to not be nervous because, for me, it’s all part of the process. The trick is living with it and using it to your advantage:

Nervous is normal: you are going to get nervous when doing a presentation. This is the big one. Everyone gets nervous and excited when doing something significant. Trying to not be nervous is only going to draw your attention to how nervous you are and make you even more nervous. It’s like trying to fall asleep by thinking about how much you need to fall asleep. Accept your feelings as normal and go do a great job.

Never compare yourself to how you think others are.The problem is, we look at people who are good at speaking and presenting and think that not being nervous is the way we should be. But we don’t see the practice, and fretting, and worrying. We don’t know that they felt like they were going to puke adrenalin right up until they started. We didn’t see them all jittery. We don’t even know what nervous looks like for them.

There is a very fine line between nervous and excited. Very fine. For me, the physiological response is the same – shaking hands, butterflys in the stomach, my attention span shortens, sometimes I start to sweat. I suspect that we often confuse being excited for being nervous.

Nervous does not equal failure. You’re nervous – so what? Don’t judge your presentation on how you felt. Judge it on the end results and the impact that it had on the audience.

Use your nerves to your advantage. I get nervous/excited when I’m looking forward to something, when I want to do a really good job, when there’s some consequence. There’s a ton of energy coursing through your body. Channel it and use it to put life and passion into your presentation.

Look forward to your nervousness. We’re all different. I used to race motorcycles and bicycles and developed a habit that’s served me well when speaking. No matter how nervous I was before a race, sitting on the starting line always created intense calm, focus, and confidence for me. All the internal chatter gets quiet and my whole being was laserbeamed on the first corner. I find speaking is the same for me. No matter how nervous/excited I am, experience has taught me that once I get started it all comes together. I look forward to those first moments when I stop being scattered and my brain quiets down and I get focused. Over the years, I’ve simply trained myself to look forward to those opening moments.

Experience helps. No lie. The more you do anything, the less awkward you’ll feel. You’ll never get better if you stay on the sidelines kicking yourself for getting nervous. Get out and do it.

Have fun. In a weird way, the audience will reflect your state of mind. If you relax and have fun, they will too.


Anyone else have some favorite tips to help deal with nervousness when giving presentations?

One comment

  1. Great points Broc! Regardless of industry, public speaking is certainly a skill that is essential. I will never feel completely comfortable speaking in front of a group. Nerves kick in every time, but I have certainly grown increasingly confident as I’ve embraced the “nervousness” and done it anyway.


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