Would you like to know how to take your nerves before you speak and use them to help you focus and step up? It is a true pro skill. And it will help you as much in front of 3 people as 3,000.
Nerves and how to use them has been my focus this week. It’s conference season right now – or it certainly feels like it here as I’ve been coaching a lot of speakers for big stages. It’s joyous to see and hear them overcome their fears and turn their panic into power as they step out and nail it. The confidence you can do that stays with you forever. You grow.
I’m pretty hardline on nerves. It’s never about hiding them – which lots of people ask me about. You don’t hide nerves, you ride them. Hiding anything takes up the energy you need to focus on your audience. Instead you take the fear, and you use it. Rather than being a headwind which knocks you off your game you use it as a tailwind to help you focus and soar to new heights.
And the word you need for this, I discovered via Tara Mohr, is Yirah.
As Mohr tells us, in Hebrew there are two kinds of fear:
- Pachad is the headwind – The kind of terror of something imagined that makes you close down – stay safe. It can feel paralysing. It is connected to fight or flight – your system wants to run away or hide. If you are not in mortal danger Pachad stops you achieving what you need to – because frankly when it’s there you can’t think straight – your options are punch, freeze, hide or run away. None of them much use at a conference.
- Yirah is the tailwind, the fear that picks you up and helps you fly to new heights. It gives you energy, it mobilises you in a good way. It allows you to be big and to take up space. It is connected to a sense of awe and also gratitude.
I was thinking in my speaker coaching this week, what it is that I do as a speaker to get out of pachad and into yirah. Here is my list. I hope it helps you. It’s not exhaustive and I could write a chapter on each of these, (and in fact watch this space because I’m about to create a new public speaking course – you can sign up here to be kept in the loop about courses) but in the meantime I hope this list helps you soar on the wings of Yirah rather than crash to earth in Pachad when those big moments come.
- When asked to speak, channel a sense of contribution – what can you offer the audience, rather than competition (will I be better or worse than the other speakers).
- Do your due diligence. Get on top of the brief – who, why, how can you help. Find out their pain points before you get in the room.
- Speak from your sweet spot. Never present someone else’s material – take control and make it yours.
- You need to say something at least 3X before you say it to an audience. Rehearse and record yourself and play it back – it allows you to be your own coach and learn your lines in one. Then if you can find a real human to practise with, ask them to give you two congratulations and one refinement.
- Whenever you feel the flutter of nerves remember to “See success”. Use the sports technique of making a positive movie/visualisation as a tool to enhance performance. Once the brain has visualised success it effectively thinks you’ve already done it.
On the day
- As actors say “Your day is not your own” – early night, quiet morning is a performance booster because you build a laser focus on the presentation.
- Exercise. Exercising a good few hours before a speech can help reduce anxiety and stress whether you go for a run or stretch.
- Eat light and eat protein several hours before the talk. Cut coffee.
- Style it out: wear something that makes you feel confident, and if it helps to get pro hair and even make up (and you can afford it) it can be a confidence booster.
- Find a low stress transport option – some days are taxi days so you can relax and focus.
- Get there early to make the space feel like home – get on the stage when no one is around (or only the tech crew) and make yourself comfortable. Go and sit at the back of the room and imagine being in the audience for your talk.
- Do a Tech Run – check the mic, check the slides scrupulously at least an hour before you speak. Make friends with the technicians.
- Find Your “Green Room” – Find a space you can sit quietly for a few minutes before you speak.
- Start slow – take a moment to look out at the audience and make contact.
- Ground your feet and have a sense of peripheral vision.
- Find friendly faces in the crowd. If the lights are bright, imagine an old friend at the back of the room.
- Own the space – stand well and gesture in your natural way.
- Be good enough – forget perfect and instead be who you are so you can focus out on the audience instead, they will love you for that.
If you want to dig into any of these before the new course comes – my audio Presenting with Gravitas course contains a lot more on the process of getting from panic to power!
Now it’s your chance to soar!
I shared a short video about this earlier in the week which you can watch by clicking on the link below.
Turning your nerves into a positive
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