Feeling powerful and often scary emotions along with physical changes before public speaking is not a bad thing. In fact if you think about it correctly, its good and helpful.
When I'm coaching people to overcome their fear of public speaking, we talk a lot about feelings and why it's important to give some feelings new definitions.
Here’s what I mean.
We’re all hardwired to react quickly when confronted with fear. Our brain surges adrenaline through our body. Every muscle and nerve comes alive, ready to battle or run faster than a gazelle to escape. It's a survival instinct.
But when that happens as you are moments away from talking with an audience, the instinct will not help you survive. Uncontrolled, your body’s reaction will destroy your presentation. But if you channel those feelings into something productive it will help you flourish.
Next time you get the flight or flight feeling I want you to counter your body’s reaction with self talk and mental reflection.
Begin by noticing and acknowledging internally what is happening. “Ah yes, I can feel my hands getting a bit sweaty” you might say to yourself. “Oh and there’s my heart beginning to beat a bit faster.” “Gosh my hands just turned so cold I feel I’m holding ice!”
In most circumstances those feelings would bring immediate questions inside our brains: “What’s happening? I must be in danger! I’d better get out of here!” Those are thoughts I’ve had before presentations.
Give those feelings a new definition.
Instead of letting the brain and body run wild, I want you to think back over all the work you have (hopefully) done to prepare for this very moment. Think about how and why you wrote out your talk. Think of the many times you practiced it to yourself, maybe even bounced it off someone else and how much they liked it.
Then shift your thinking from yourself to your audience. Think of them in compassionate terms. You want to help them. You have information that will help with their job, relationships, life or something else important. Imagine when you have been in their seats. Don’t you often just hope the speaker does not bore you? I do. Remember, the audience has taken time out of their lives to be there and hear what you have to say. They want you to amaze them! They are pulling for you, not waiting to judge every word that comes out of your mouth.
Run through that mental exercise. It will help.
I experienced all of this over an Easter weekend I'll never forget.
I sing with a talented church choir made up mostly of professionals. I’m still not sure how I ended up with them because I’m not at their level.
When the choir director asked a few weeks before Easter if I’d be willing to try a couple solo lines I gulped and said … sure. I practiced and practiced those short lines, singing in the car and in the shower and when ever I had a moment and no one was around.
The choir director had me run through it during rehearsal a week before our performance. I was a bit rocky.
I kept practicing. I must have gone over those lines 40 times before the big night.
As the congregation arrived I was nervous. I could feel my heart beating faster with every minute. My mouth went dry. I kept rubbing my hands because they felt icy.
Inside my head I kept reminding myself the physical symptoms were okay. It was my body reminding me I was keyed up and ready to go. There was no reason to fear because I’d practiced the heck out of the lines in the solo.
And I thought of the times I was in the audience, praying the choir would be decent and help make the service better not worse.
When my moment came, I sang with nerves and confidence all mixed together.
No one is offering me a recording contract but my choir director said I didn’t totally mess up the solo.
My point is this.
Your body may react as you prepare to give a public talk. But that doesn’t mean you should let it control you.
Stop defining your fight or flight feeling as something that is wrong. Instead, remember it is your body saying “we’re ready–lets go!”