You stand up in front of a group of people to speak and your voice trembles, your mouth becomes unbelievably dry, your armpits seem to have more sweat than you ever imagined possible, and your hand, which you entrusted with your notes, begins to shake uncontrollably. Congratulations, you are human! These physical reactions to your nervousness are completely normal. This is your body doing its job.
The problem with these natural reactions to our inward nerves is that they make us look fearful and timid, which may even cause us to lose the respect of our audience. We don’t want to look nervous. We hate the feeling of being nervous, so what can we do about this?
There are many tips for calming your nerves, but in my own experience, they don’t really help. Yes, avoiding too much coffee does reduce jitters and practicing your presentation does increase confidence, but none of this prep work gets rid of all the nerves. I’ve been training and presenting for more than 10 years. Speaking in public does get easier, but those nerves never completely go away.
There is no point trying to get rid of something you cannot avoid. Instead, embrace your nervous energy and let it work for you in a positive way. Rename your emotions. Instead of thinking, “I am nervous,” tell yourself, “I am excited!” or “I am looking forward to this!”
A study done by Allison Brooks at Harvard University (Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2013, Vol. 143, No. 1) found that people who reframed their nervous energy as excitement, rather than thinking about the feelings as nerves, performed better in public speaking, in singing, and on math tasks. The people in this study who were told to say, “I am excited” performed better than the people who were told to say, “I am anxious” or “I am calm” before they completed a task. Brooks shows that positive self-talk can actually help change the way we feel and perform.
The next time you feel those butterflies in your stomach or sweaty armpits, smile and tell yourself that those are feelings of excitement, and let them work for you not against you.