Are you nervous about something you have to do in front of an audience? Does the thought of an upcoming job interview, presentation, sporting event, or other performance make you break out in to stress sweat? Are you petrified about what the audience is going to think of you? I've been there and I can tell you, it's important to get a handle on the fear before getting front of an audience.
If it takes over, it will hinder your performance and could be career limiting. Your big moment cannot be shrouded by anxiety. Instead, you'll need to be present, energetic, and confident. Find a ways to block out the nervousness or it will only impede your chances of success.
Before I go on, I have to say that the advice in this article is for those of you who feel nervous at times, not those who have nervous conditions, such as debilitating anxiety. If your emotions are impeding your ability to function normally, please let your family practitioner know what you're experiencing. For those who feel bouts of nervousness, keep reading...
Nervousness and anxiety can get in the way when you're trying to succeed. For example, when you're the presenter, you have a message to convey, and the audience is expecting you to convey it. Another example is a job interview where the interviewer(s) are expecting you to tell them why you're the right person for the job, simply because you're the only one in the room who knows.
Before I worked through my fear of presenting, I suffered each and every time I had to speak in front of a crowd. I truly believe that before you actually feel nervous, you consciously make a decision and convince yourself that you are nervous, making it harder to do what you are about to. I've actually caught myself at the exact moment when I've told myself "I am nervous". As soon as I would tell myself that I was nervous, my palms and armpits would start sweating, and the fear would feel like heat moving through my body. The symptoms of anxiety and nervousness can be awful, such as trembling, getting hot, fainting, getting nauseous, and breaking out in hives.
I use to present briefings to a room of about 30 very high-level executives in a large, dim, boardroom, sometimes up to three times a week. Everything about this boardroom was intimidating, including the massive, dark,wood boardroom table. The executives I would brief expected nothing less than excellence and accuracy in tight presentation time slots. At times, it felt like if I made a mistake during one of these briefings, it would be career limiting.
After the way I felt during my first two briefings, I knew I had to figure out a way to be brave for the next one. Then right before my third briefing, I caught myself as the nervousness was ready to set in. I scolded myself, "you can't be nervous right now. You're new to this role and it's important for you to look like you know what you're doing". Right then and there, I practiced mindfulness. Taking a moment to focus on the task at hand, I looked around the room and realised that the people waiting for me to speak were just people doing their jobs. It was the moment, I decided that fear was not going to impede my success.
I reminded myself that I'm a pretty good speaker, I knew the topic well, and I had taken out the time to be prepared by practicing. I talked myself in to believing that I had no reason to be nervous. I took some deep breaths, distracted myself from the fear, and focused on positive thoughts. It worked, I was still a bit nervous but nothing like before and it got easier every time after that.
Anxiety, nervousness, and fear are all emotions that can impede us from moving forward. You have to do something about it and get the help you need to work through the negative emotions that prevent you from being brave. Here are some ideas:
- Take long, deep breaths, keeping your thoughts positive as you inhale and exhale slowly. This one works for me without fail. I'm referring to Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing. At times when your body is reacting to stress, your breathing tends to be short and quick also known as Thoracic (chest) breathing. Deep breathing, from the diaphragm, can calm you down and get you back to the place of peace. The UK Telegraph's article, Deep breathing calms you down because brain cells spy on your breath, explains exactly how deep breathing calms you down.
- Practice mindfulness. As defined by Mindful.org, mindfulness, "is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us". Learning to be mindful is easy and once you master it, you'll be able to calm yourself down in minutes, sometimes seconds.
- Get enough sleep. When you're feeling anxious, it's very hard to sleep. That's a real problem because a lack of sleep can have an effect on your mood and emotions. Harvard Health Publishing's article, Tips for beating anxiety to get a better night's sleep, has some great advice on how to get a good nights sleep.
- Read articles, self-help books, or blogs about nervousness and anxiety. Healthline.com lists some of the best books to help you through anxiety and fear. For example, Dare challenges the reader to face your anxious thoughts and challenge them instead of feeding into them or trying to ignore them".
- Journal your thoughts daily. Writing down your thoughts can help you see your problems so you can work through them. Journalling is beneficial to your state of mind in many ways. Check out Huffington Post's article, 10 Surprising Benefits You'll Get From Keeping a Journal by Thai Nguyen. Journalling can evoke mindfulness and improve self-confidence. A good exercise is to write down your fears, why you fear them, and then write what you think is the worse that can happen. Translating feelings into language can be quite freeing.
- Exercise increases your endorphins, which in turn makes you feel happy. So you can only imagine the positive effect exercise will have on how you feel about yourself. Also, the more you exercise, the more energy you have. When you have an event that requires you to think on your feet, work out the day before. You'll wake up the next morning feeling rejuvenated, alert, and ready for what you have to do.
- Want to be a better public speaker? How do you get better at anything? Practice, practice, practice. Toastmasters is "a supportive learn-by-doing environment" that helps you build confidence, and "allows you to achieve your goals at your own pace". Toastmasters provides a setting for you to get accustomed to accepting and giving feedback. Many well-known speakers rave about Toastmasters and how joining helped them to present themselves with confidence. There are in-person clubs in major cities around the world and you can even participate online if you can't find a club near you.
- Last but definitely not least, please seek help, such as counselling, if the nervousness your experiencing is preventing you from functioning normally at work or home. There is no shame in getting help, it just means that you're willing to do the work to get you to your fully functioning, best self. There are experts whose job is to help people with anxiety, and other mental health disorders but they can't help you if you don't reach out to them for help.
The lesson here is that we can not let fear get in the way of our success. Put yourself out there. Success requires bravery.