Why Nerves Can Be a Asset When You Speak
Rachel is a new client is now required to speak before an audience. It’s our first meeting, the one in which I discover what your objectives are and how to work with you so that you present a clear and meaningful message.
She is sitting across the table from me. She says, “Michael, I need help. I’ve got to give this speech next month and I’m scared to death. How can I get rid of my nerves?”
After a long pause, I reply, “I wouldn’t suggest that, Rachel.”
Surprised, she says, “What do you mean? When I’m nervous I do terrible when I speak in front of people.”
“Rachel, what causes your nervousness?”
After considering this question for a while, she answers, with some hesitation, “My emotions?”
“Yes! Those emotions are evidence that you care about your speech. The real issue you’re dealing with isn’t your nerves….it’s your focus.”
Confusion spreads across her face. She says, “I don’t understand.”
“Maybe this will help. Before you give a talk, and you’re feeling nervous, what are you thinking about?”
She looks up and to her right for several seconds. “Well, I’m concerned that I’m going to forget what I’m going to say.”
“Ok. What else?” I ask.
“Hmmm. I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Alright. Give me one more thought that’s running around in there,” I reply.
With a long sigh, she says, “I’m afraid…I’m afraid I’ll make a bunch of mistakes.”
After considering her responses, I say, “Understandable, and precisely why your nerves are controlling you. Rachel, who are you focused on with the three concerns you just shared with me?”
“Me,” she quickly answers.
“Who should your focus be on?”
With a sheepish smile, she says “The audience.”
“Precisely. Your focus on you is creating levels of nervousness you and your audience don’t need. Contrary to popular opinion, nerves are good. Again, they show you care. When you shift your concern to what the audience will get, you’ll be in a better position to manage your nerves.
I pause to let this sink in.
“Rachel, the hard truth is, when you speak, audiences don’t care whether you ‘look good,’ are ‘super successful,’ or whether you make a few stumbles in your presentation. An occasional mistake is actually good – it lets the audience know you’re just as human as they are.
What they want is your perspective on a common problem they’re dealing with. As important as this speech is to you, don’t forget that the time you spend with them is a tiny sliver of their lives.”
“You make it sound like my speech isn’t important at all,” Rachel shoots back at me.
“Not at all. I’m not making myself completely clear. My point is, when you work hard on a speech, it’s easy to lose perspective. Your speech can have a significant impact on an audience.
But it has no chance of doing that if you continue to focus on you – how you look, how you sound, how this speech will impact your career. Your audience doesn’t care about any of that. The burning question that’s on their minds is, “What ya got for me? How can you make my life a little better?”
“Wow,” Rachel says. “I’ve never thought of it that way.”
“That’s why you hired me!” I reply in my sarcastic, yet strangely humorous manner. “Seriously, Rachel, remember that you want to manage your nerves, not eliminate them. Those nerves give you an extra energy-boost, a shot of adrenaline that can draw people deeper into your talk. The first step toward doing that is changing your focus from you to the audience.”
“What’s the second step?” Rachel eagerly asks.
“That, my friend, will have to wait until our next meeting, because you have plenty to work on before your learn that step. Until next week, craft your speech around the idea of what the audience will receive from this talk…..”
Tune in next week so that you, along with Rachel, can learn the second step to managing – not eliminating – your nerves when you speak.
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