For the past 30 years, I’ve been speaking formally and informally to audiences as small as 5 people and as large as 5,000 on a near-weekly basis. As part of my coaching practice, I regularly deliver keynotes, presentations, trainings and workshops. I’ve been a public speaker since I was 10, when I won my first blue ribbon at the Sangamon County 4-H Fair for my speech about integrating deaf children into my “hearing” grade school. I remember being SO nervous before that speech. I had butterflies in my stomach like crazy, and I remember my hands shaking as I went up to address the crowd. I can still see the stage, the dark walnut podium, the three judge panel, and the dozen or so other participants and their expectant parents sitting in the first few rows. I also remember being incredibly relieved as I exited the stage after it was over. I got great feedback on that speech from everyone in attendance, and I was so proud of my ability to communicate my thoughts in that creative and expressive way. But, damn, was I a basket of nerves up until that moment!
In many ways, things haven’t changed much. One thing I’ve become increasingly aware of as I give presentations, speeches, and trainings is this:
I never quite get over the nervous jitters, the pit in the stomach feeling prior to the ‘big show,’ and the stress that comes along with doing a WOW-caliber presentation. Since I can’t control the feelings of anxiety that arise, I am learning how to “be present” with those feelings, and I’m teaching myself how to respond to them in a way that allows me to stay calm, cool, and collected. Afterall, the show must go on!
A quick analysis brought me to the three following conclusions (and I hope you find them inspiring and helpful in your life!).
1. Keep it all in the right perspective.
The show you’re about to “put on” is just ONE in a long series of presentations you’ll give and conversations you’ll have in your life; don’t make it a “bigger deal” than it is. Work from the perspective that “it will be as it will be—this is just ONE of many—so go do what you know to do, what you’ve been trained to do, what you are built to do,” and you’ll be amazed at how the jitter bugs will tend to fall over and die—almost instantaneously. You’ll find yourself freed of any choking anxiety or gut-wrenching thoughts, and your creativity and talent will FLOW with ease. You’re not conducting open-heart surgery, no one is dying, and there’s no life-threatening fire to extinguish…you’re just delivering a message (albeit an important one, theoretically) and the rest will fall into place as it’s supposed to. Keep it all in the right perspective.
2. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
One of my all-time favorite books is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend you download it to your kindle or nook ASAP. In her book, Jeffers argues that the reason we have fear of any kind is typically because we believe we can’t handle “it” (whatever “it” may be for you). When we turn to face the fear, we realize how mistaken about it we often are. When you begin to face your fear, to acknowledge it and really FEEL it and let it be completely present (as opposed to ignoring it), it automatically begins to lose its force and control over you—and you are able to move forward and GO FOR IT with much greater ease. I recently found myself saying quietly to the fear-induced knot in my stomach, “I acknowledge you, I know you are here, and I welcome your presence.” Sounds corny, I know, but it works beautifully for relieving doubt. I then follow it up with a self-inquiry: what is the gift that this anxiety is here to give me? When I listen to the voice of my anxiety and really hear what it’s saying, I get curious about what am I able to learn that could help instead of hinder me. You’ll be amazed at the shift that will occur for you when you do this. So, before each big show, I work on really feeling the fear…and then getting out there and giving the performance anyway.
3. Go at it with a playful heart.
Fun is my native land. I like to live in a world where the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the children are laughing, the people are frolicking, and there is play, play, play and fun, fun, fun. When I approach giving a talk or presentation from my “playful” space, as opposed to my “this is serious and important and I must deliver a perfect speech” space, I am much more creative, confident, poised, focused, and energetic—and much, much better able to truly connect with my audience. Preparing for the big show from this playful perspective fuels thoughts and feelings of enjoyment and pleasure, of love and self-assuredness, and that gets me a long way toward winning the war against the pre-show tension I often experience. When we can approach situations—especially intense ones—with a sense of wonder and ease that comes along with having a playful heart, we are often able to exceed our own expectations about the performance we deliver. Go at it with a playful heart.