Friday, May 20 2022

Professional artists know that a certain nervousness can be incredibly helpful. This keeps you focused and encourages you to spend your time preparing instead of procrastinating. Performing a few rituals before each speech or presentation will help you tap into your nervous energy instead of feeling upset by it. Then you can channel your nerves into a powerful and punchy performance. Take a few minutes to refocus. Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Tell yourself out loud how excited you are about this opportunity and the positive impact it will have on others. Visualize the whole presentation, from start to finish, in your mind; imagine it’s going incredibly well. And you’ll be that much closer to making sure everything is going well.

Contrary to popular belief, the secret to confident public speaking isn’t getting rid of your nerves. The key is to reframe your anxiety into arousal.

Professional artists know that a certain nervousness can be incredibly helpful. This keeps you focused and encourages you to spend your time preparing instead of procrastinating. As a former opera singer turned speaker, entrepreneur, and singer-songwriter, I have mastered physical and mental techniques that help me focus and prepare to perform at my best in front of thousands of people. I now coach clients through a pre-speech ritual that includes breathing work and visualizations to calm the nerves and get into the right frame of mind to deliver a presentation with confidence and authenticity.

A few years ago, my team and I facilitated leadership communication training for a large financial institution. One bank manager in particular was incredibly anxious about speaking in public. Despite the fact that she had a warm personality that lent itself well to speaking, the idea frightened her to the point of paralyzing her.

But rather than revealing her nervousness, every time she had to get up and introduce herself to our group, she would exclaim, “This is amazing! And we were all laughing with her because we knew it really meant, “I’m terrified!” And despite the nerves, his presentations were very engaging. This sentence became a reference within our small group: whenever someone was nervous before speaking, they shouted: “This is amazing! When they got up and we all hit it off.

In his book Psyched Up: How The Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, Daniel McGinn, editor-in-chief at Harvard Business Review, talks about pre-performance rituals for athletes, speakers, and surgeons who must perform in high-stakes situations. There is a quote in the book, from Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks, that really struck me: “The point is that anxiety and excitement are actually very, very close, corn… anxiety and calm are too far removed.

According to Brooks, focusing on the excitement rather than trying to calm down increases performance. So when we tell people to calm down before a big public speech, we are actually suggesting something incredibly difficult. We also inadvertently recommend something that could potentially inhibit a person’s performance.

Based on this logic, I revised my speaking rituals before public speaking to focus on arousal:

  1. Pause and breath: Take a few minutes to refocus. Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.
  2. Remember why you care. Why is this speech, topic or audience important to you? Tell yourself out loud how excited you are about this opportunity and the positive impact it will have on others.
  3. View the whole presentation, from start to finish, in your mind; imagine it’s going incredibly well.
  4. Listen to a song that gives you positive energy and brings a smile to your face. It could be something from your childhood or a recent song that you can’t stop listening to.

Performing these rituals before every speech or presentation will help you tap into your nervous energy instead of feeling upset by it. Then you can channel your nerves into a powerful and punchy performance.

I recently shared this story of the woman who cropped her nerves like excitement to my class of graduate students at Harvard Kennedy School. A few weeks later, a student stood up to give a noted speech in front of the whole class. As he walked to the front of the room and picked up the microphone, he exclaimed, “This is amazing! “

And, despite his nerves, his speech was.


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