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How do I stop being VERY nervous as a speaker

How do I stop being VERY nervous as a speaker?

This question you’re asking is one of the reasons why the nerves build up even more in the first place.

Let me explain.

FYI - this article specifically targets why we get so nervous when we’re about to speak or when we start to speak.

Most people that I talk to when it comes to public speaking anxiety say that it’s okay to have a few nerves going into the situation but it’s not okay to have such high levels of nerves that it goes into doomsday mode.

Others have said:

“If I have a catastrophic meltdown, the world is going to end.”

“If I flop it, I will look like a fool.”

“If I “insert the thing you don’t want to happen here”, then my reputation is going to die.”

The other day, I asked my client what was the #1 thing he wanted.

He said, "I want assurance that a catastrophic nervous meltdown wouldn’t happen."

It makes sense, you probably don't want this to happen too, so you won't....

  • Blank out
  • Have your face turn red
  • Mess up
  • Appear very nervous
  • Have your voice tremble
  • Lose control
  • “Insert the thing you don’t want to happen here!”

The question is…why do the nerves build up so much?

Here’s why:

The first dot (normal nerves): When you get into a speaking situation and you’re about to speak or you’re starting to speak… you get nervous. You’re getting adrenaline and cortisol. Your body is starting to feel it. Your heart starts racing faster.

(The definition of adrenaline and cortisol concerning speaking nerves are located at the bottom of this article)

And then in the back of your mind…you think:

“Oh crap, here it goes again..it’s going to get worse.”

“I’m such a bad speaker for being so nervous, other people don’t get this way.”

“I hope when I open my mouth, it’s going to go well…I’m not sure if it’s going to go well this time or not….”

“I need to calm down.”

“How can I prevent this?”

The LINE to the second dot (boost of adrenaline): The way that we are feeling with the first rush of adrenaline, our heart starts to beat faster, and the butterflies in our stomach - those initial feelings become the threat. 

The desire to escape this unwanted emotion, feeling, and physical sensation is upon us.

And then because “we are in a state of threat”, our mind and body naturally help us by giving us another boost of adrenaline, cortisol, and the hormones “to help us in our situation” because the body and mind think we are in danger. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bear or public speaking. 

Second dot (meltdown point): You keep getting more adrenaline and you keep getting more in a panic mode because you’re being nervous about being nervous. It’s being afraid of being afraid. We stay in the meltdown trap. 

When your next speaking situation comes, this becomes a matter of CONTROL.

“How can I control and manage my nerves so it doesn’t get SO HIGH?”

You want control because you don’t know if it’s going to go well or it’s going to go very very bad.

What can I do Kit!!?

Well… you have to wait for part 2.

Just kitting. 

Earlier I said, “Most people that I talk to when it comes to public speaking anxiety say that it’s okay to have a few nerves going into the situation but it’s not okay to have such high levels of nerves that it goes into doomsday mode.” 

You might say it’s okay to have some nerves on the outside, but on the inside, you really don’t believe it.

Go from "I can't be nervous right now" to “I should be nervous right now.” 

If you do truly believe that on the inside, then you won’t go into a meltdown point.

This is not turning nervous energy into excitement....

This is still saying nervousness is bad, you need to turn it into something else!

Why do you need to turn nervousness into excitement when being nervous is exactly where you need to be?

Try this on:

If you have to go fire someone, how would you feel?

Probably uncomfortable.

What does it mean if someone is not feeling bad for firing someone? Perhaps they are not human or they don’t care about the other person.

Someone about to fire someone should be uncomfortable.

When they know they should be uncomfortable, this is called feeling good about feeling bad. 

The emotion does not become the threat. 

And what special techniques are they using to make themselves not uncomfortable? 

NONE.

They don’t need to because they know they should feel that way.

 

Here’s another one for you:

 

Have you ever felt worked up when you’re late to an important event?

YES, of course, that’s because the event matters to you!

Anyone would feel uneasy, worked up, or anxious when they are late for something that means something to them.

Okay, have you ever felt neutral or nothing when you were late to an event that was not important at all? For example, meeting a friend, family or something else.

Why does it feel like it’s nothing? That’s because the event doesn’t mean as much to you.

The event where we were late and we got worked up and the adrenaline is there…. it’s an emotion we should feel. Everyone should feel that way.

When we know that we should feel that way, it doesn’t become a threat. 

When you’re about to fire someone and feel uncomfortable, there is no technique you need to use to make yourself calm down.

When you’re late and your mind is rushing and you want to run, there is no main technique you need to use because it’s the feeling we’re supposed to have.

When you’re about to speak and you get nervous, you should feel that way. 

That’s because…

  • You probably care about the situation.
  • The speaking situation means something to you.
  • You don’t want to fail.
  • You want to do well.
  • You want to succeed.
  • You care about what you’re going to say.

When you shift to this mindset, then this happens:

The nerves and adrenaline are maintained at the optimal level. No extra boost of adrenaline to bring you to doomsday land.

Not too calm and not too high. And yes… you don’t want to be too calm. You don’t want an athlete to be calm when they are entering their championship game. They better be nervous because it’s important to them and they better have that adrenaline going in. 

When you ask yourself this question, “How do I stop being VERY nervous as a speaker?”, you’re treating your nerves as a threat, and on the inside, you know you can’t be nervous because it’s going to get worse.

Here’s a different question for you:

How do I start embracing that it’s okay to be nervous or be very nervous and that this is something I should feel right now?

When you truly accept this, you won’t have your catastrophic nervous meltdown.

To Your Speaking Success,

- Kit Pang

Founder, BostonSpeaks

p.s. Want more guidance, support, and help with your speaking? Schedule a call with Paulette and see how our amazing speaking coaches, Gina or Kent can help you become the best speaker you can be.

 

EXTRA READING:

****Adrenaline and Cortisol****

Adrenaline and cortisol prepare your body to handle the stress of public speaking by making you more alert, focused, and physically ready to respond to the challenge.

Adrenaline (Epinephrine)

Also known as the "fight or flight" hormone, is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It increases heart rate and blood pressure, boosts energy supplies by releasing glucose and fatty acids into the blood, and enhances awareness and focus. 

These actions prepare your body for immediate action, which, in the context of public speaking, can lead to symptoms like a pounding heart and sweaty palms, common indicators of nervousness.

Cortisol

Often called the "stress hormone," plays a longer-term role in managing stress. 

Produced by the adrenal cortex, it helps maintain fluid balance and blood pressure, ensuring that energy resources are available for extended periods of stress. It also suppresses nonessential functions, such as digestion and immune responses, to focus the body's energy on handling the stressor. Elevated cortisol levels can make it difficult to relax and focus, exacerbating the anxiety felt during public speaking and potentially creating a cycle of stress and nervousness.

Together, these hormones prepare you to face the challenges of speaking in front of an audience by making you more alert and ready to respond. However, excessive levels of adrenaline and cortisol can intensify feelings of anxiety.

 

****YEAH BUT…(Things I’ll write about in the future)****

Eh..Mindset: "Changing my mindset sounds too simple to tackle something as complex as speaking anxiety. How can just thinking differently about my nerves make such a big difference when I'm up there and all eyes are on me?"

Fear of Public Judgment: "What if my nervousness is visible and people judge me for it? It's not just about feeling nervous; it's about not wanting to be seen as weak or incompetent in front of an audience."

Physical Symptoms Overwhelm: "But even if I accept my nerves, how do I deal with the physical symptoms? My voice shakes, my hands tremble, and sometimes I even feel like I'm going to faint. These aren't just feelings; they're physical reactions I can't control."

Past Failures Haunt: "I've had experiences where my nerves got the best of me, and I completely bombed a presentation. How can I convince myself that 'it's okay to be nervous' when I have these memories haunting me?"

Perfectionism: "But isn't the goal to deliver a perfect speech? If I allow myself to be nervous, doesn't that mean I'm settling for less than perfect? I can't shake the feeling that being nervous means I'm not prepared enough."

Misconception About Other Confident Speakers: "Yeah but, when I look at other speakers, they seem so confident and at ease. They surely don't get nervous, right? How can I aim to be like them if I'm accepting my nervousness as normal?"

Reliance on External Validation: "But my confidence as a speaker is tied to how the audience reacts. If they don't respond well, my nerves spike. How can I maintain confidence in the face of a tough crowd?"

Difficulty in Application: "It's one thing to understand this conceptually, but another to apply it in the heat of the moment. When I'm about to speak and panic sets in, all this theory goes out the window. How can I make this shift under pressure?"

 

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