The nature of nerves
Several years ago, a survey was conducted to identify the top 10 public fears. What came in at number one? Public speaking! Apparently, the scariest thing we can do in our lives is stand in front of people and speak. What is the secret to successful presentations?
Why the fear factor?
Public speaking is often considered an umbrella fear (no, umbrellas were not on the list!), i.e., many different fears bundled together under one heading. We tend to focus on the many things that could go wrong when presenting:
- our mouths will dry up,
- our minds will go blank,
- we will fall over,
- we will burst into tears,
- they’ll laugh at us or throw things,
- we will embarrass ourselves and colleagues in the audience.
A wise man once said: the human brain is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment we are born and doesn’t stop until we stand up to speak in public. Basically, we imagine the worst-case scenario and carry that with us into the presentation!
The physical effects
As soon as we perceive a threat and become nervous, we switch on that primitive survival instinct, fight or flight. Our brain releases 2 stimulants into our bloodstream, adrenaline and cortisol, which bring about physical changes within us.
Our heart rate increases – the heart is now working overtime, pumping blood and oxygen to the parts of us which need it most to keep us alive. Ultimately it just wants us to be physically strong enough to deal with the threat – to either fight back, or to run away (take flight).
Our body temperature rises – who doesn’t get sweaty when they are nervous? We also get the rush of blood to the head – this explains why a lot of people’s faces turn red when they are either angry or embarrassed.
The main message here is that the fight or flight instinct gives us a colossal amount of nervous energy – use it! With practice, this energy becomes our ally when presenting, not our enemy! If we send our nervous energy outwards towards the audience, it manifests itself as positive energy, enthusiasm, and vitality. It really works!
So, what’s the big secret?
How do we become more confident presenters? Is it acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga, or hypnotherapy? Perhaps – but the answer is much simpler: practice. Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more!
These 4 key tips will also ensure productive presentations:
- Collaborate on the presentation
- Know the customer really well
- Tell the story with real people
- Visualize Data
The more we repeat any skill or behaviour, the more it becomes embedded and the more efficient we become. Whenever opportunities to present arise, grab them with both hands. Not an easy answer but the most effective one!
What, then, is the secret to successful presentations? If we get nervous before a presentation, that’s good! It means we’re human and not perfect presenting robots. With practice, we can harness the nervous energy and use it to be an enthusiastic and engaging presenter. Remember, Mark Twain once said this: “There are 2 kinds of public speaker. Those that are nervous, and those that are liars.”