(Updated February 2020)
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to stand in front of an audience and feel calm? Actually, no! 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.
What you want is 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. I recently learned that the Yerkes-Dobson Law explains this relationship between stress and performance and the corresponding 'inverted U' graph.
Body language expert Mark Bowden, in his book “Winning Body Language” describes a man who came to him for help because he broke out in hives every time he presented. Mark urged him to accept his fear as the first step forward. Bowden says, “In just about all cases of stage fright, battling the fear is never the answer”.
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.