March 4, 2013

A simple tip to keep the nerves at bay

Do you ever sit in a meeting or at an event, dreading your turn to speak?

You know it's coming, and as as each person gives their report, shares their news, or introduces the next speaker, your heart beats faster, your palms get sweatier and your brain spins with a million thoughts -- including the usual, "What if I forget what I'm supposed to say?" and "What if I get so nervous I can't breathe?" or "What if I blow it in front of my superiors?" (Here's my experience with a similar situation from about a decade ago.)

When it's your turn to speak, not only have you whipped yourself into an anxious frenzy, but you probably weren't paying attention to what anyone else said, and you've probably missed a good part of the meeting. This is especially common when we're required to go around the room giving self-introductions.

So here's a fairly simple tip that will help you stay focused and be prepared when it's your turn to speak: Be present.

Being present means that, instead of getting lost in your own thoughts and your own bodily sensations, you focus instead on the person speaking and what's happening in the room. Make eye contact with the person speaking. Take notes. Really hear what she is saying. Maybe look around and notice what other people are wearing. Keep yourself present in the room.

When you're focused on the speaker and not your own thoughts, you will find it much easier to stay calm and not get yourself into a state of high emotion.

Distractions will occur. You'll find yourself drifting back into your thoughts and your nervousness, and as you do, just catch yourself, stop, and re-focus your eye contact and your attention onto the speaker.

This practice, by the way, is also useful in many other situations in both professional and personal life. Being present with another person or with an audience is a gift you give them of your time and attention. But it's also a gift to yourself, where you can get out of your own head and feelings for a short time, relax, and make the other person feel heard and acknowledged.

How has being present helped with your public speaking? Please share in the comments!

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Peter Billingham said...

Hi Lisa - agree with you 100% being present in the moment really is a gift that you can give to someone and yourself. I find that in the situation that you talk about above if you can identify with another person who has already spoken, for example, "like John, I love being outdoors, or, like Julie I have a family, did the same degree," etc. This can help bring a connection and association with other people in the room which builds relationships and shows your interest in another person. It's a great technique to also use when public speaking. If you can reference other people who have spoken before you (as Ken Robinson does really well in his TED talk on creativity) it builds resonance with people in the room. Thanks for a great post.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Peter. Yes, creating continuity between speakers builds relationships and resonance, as you say, and also helps the audience connect and build on ideas from one speaker to the next.

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