When I ask a group of people if they have ever had to talk to an audience about something they didn’t understand or were not convinced about themselves I usually get a lot of nods. Then I ask them how they felt about it. They say things like ‘I felt uncomfortable.’ ‘I felt like a fraud.’ ‘I felt like people were going to challenge me and I wouldn’t be able to respond.’ ‘I was scared I would get found out.’
Perhaps you are a team leader or mid-level manager and you work for a company who has just adopted a new vision and values. You have heard senior management explain it and put a great story around it and now it’s your turn to present it to your team. Suddenly you feel very uncomfortable. How are you going to explain it when you still have lots of questions yourself? Fearing your content can really undermine your confidence.
(Updated February 2020)
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to stand in front of an audience and feel calm and relaxed? Actually, that should not be your aim! While it might be nice to feel calm, the reality is that you generally perform better when you are a bit nervous.
Imagine you are an Olympic athlete turning up to the start of a race. Do you think that you will feel calm? Of course not. You will be very nervous and rightly so. Once more those nerves will serve you well as they mean your body is producing adrenalin that will make you run faster.
When it comes to public speaking something similar applies. If you are calm the chances are that you will come across as laid back but not particularly effective or dynamic. However, with presenting, being very nervous doesn’t serve you well either. When you start to show visible signs of fear such as shaking, sweating, or going red, you become focused on what is happening to you rather than what you are saying, to the detriment of your performance.
You want to hit that sweet spot, where a bit of nervousness gives you optimal performance. Remember that those nerves are a sign that your body is preparing to perform. You want enough adrenalin to enhance your performance but not so much that it starts to undermine it. The Yerkes-Dobson Law explains this relationship between stress and performance and the corresponding 'inverted U' graph - where performance increases with nerves before sharply decreasing.
I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.