Friday, May 18, 2007

Nervousness -- how it can help a presentation

Nervousness, stage fright, podium panic. By whatever name, it’s a common reaction to the prospect of speaking in front of a group.

We’ve all heard the supposed cures:

#1. Take a deep breath. But just one deep breath never seemed to work, so I’d take another. And another. And pretty soon I’d be getting light-headed.

#2. Concentrate on speaking slowly. When ... I ... tried this ... I ... had to ... take a breath ... so often I ... started to hyper ... ventilate again!

#3. My favorite: Imagine the audience is sitting in their underwear. All that ever did was remind me of that dream where one finds oneself in a public place naked.

In short, the more I tried to get rid of my nervousness the more nervous I became.

But as I listened to more presentations, especially in the world of business, I realized that the most ineffective speakers were not nervous. In fact, they were so calm and controlled that they never varied their pace, their voice or their body language.

The more effective speakers did all of these things in ways that made their message stand out. Their nervousness had given them energy.

So my solution to nervousness is not to fight it, but to embrace it and turn it into energy.

Think of yourself as a member of the audience responding positively to a lively, interesting presentation -- your presentation.


Talk about nervous! Imagine you’re the police officer in a Pennsylvania town who responded to a recent 9-1-1 call. You’re confronting an upset woman who is threatening you with a handful of poisonous snakes. And you’re not carrying your service flute!


For more basics, see Writing for the Ear: a Primer in the left-hand column.