I am on the train on the way to do my first big industry talk. I have memorised it. But all I can think is “what if I forget the words?”. I mutter my words as I recite it in my head over and over. I am consumed with nerves.
I get to the conference in time for lunch. A friend speaks to me and I am incapable of holding a conversation. I am consumed with nerves.
Next, I am pacing backstage reciting the talk over and over. I am on in 10 minutes. I am consumed with nerves.
I hit the stage – the nerves? They’ve turned in to adrenaline. I am flying. I am loving it. And I remember the words.
Many people come to me worried about nerves. They tell me they’ve tried the breathing, they’ve tried the NLP techniques, they’ve tried imagining the audience naked (I’ve never really understood this one!), they say they’ve tried everything – and they are still riddled with butterflies, shaky knees and that overwhelming feeling that everyone can see they are rubbish.
They say to me: “How do I get rid of my nerves?”
Here is your magic bullet:
Trying to ‘get rid’ of your nerves is a waste of time and a losing battle. What you do is manage your nerves, and here are 3 techniques to try.
1) Accept The Nerves
I recently interviewed comedian Hayley Ellis and she talked about how when she started she used to wear a scarf to hide the anxiety rash she would get from the nerves of performing.
This is not uncommon with many actors and comedians talking of having nerves when performing.
The reality is that everyone gets nerves in one form or another. Some people talk about using their nerves, or seeing them as positive – may be telling yourself that they are excitement rather than anxiety.
The trick is to accept them. Fighting the nerves and thinking you are not supposed to feel nervous is a sure fire way to fuel your anxiety. Accepting fear as part of the process is the only way to help reduce and manage it.
I saw comedian David Nihill, writer of “Do You Talk Funny?”, speak at TEDx Manchester, and after speaking to comedians and working through his own nerves his summary was “the nerves will always be there – you have to learn how to manage them”.
2) Do It Again, And Again, And Again
Once you’ve accepted that you are going to get nervous and that the nerves are all part of the process – do it more than once.
Take all opportunities to speak. And make sure you use rehearsal in the process.
I run my speaker courses over 6 weeks. By doing this, people focus on their rehearsal rather than on their performance. From week 1 the participants speak in front of their fellow students and they repeat it every week.
On more than one occasion the repeated rehearsal in front of their peers has led students to acknowledge the reduction of their nerves.
The best way I can describe this is that this is not about getting out of your comfort zone, and staying uncomfortable. It’s about GROWING your comfort zone so the uncomfortable becomes comfortable.
3) Make It About The Audience
It is so easy to think that you are on show and that everyone can see all your vulnerabilities as you stand there on stage and that everyone will notice every slip up and that everyone is staring at you and they know that the stuff you’re saying isn’t as good as you want it to be etc etc etc.
This is all of course nonsense. If people could really read your mind, no one would ever need to speak in public.
Take the pressure off yourself.
The best speakers make it about the audience. In her book “Out Front” speaker Deborah Shames recounts that one of her best-received talks was when she just spent the whole time answering the audience’s questions. Take the light that you feel is shining on you, and shine it on your audience. Make it about them, give them something useful and entertaining and you will get the best feedback.
The magic bullet to get rid of your nerves is that there isn’t one. Once you accept that nerves are part of the process you can work out your way to manage them, rehearse with them and then make it about everyone else but you. Stepping out of your comfort zone should never really be a one-off experience, it should be about getting uncomfortable and then making it comfortable.
I have a confession to make. It wasn’t until I started presenting my own daily podcast that I realised how powerful the connection with your audience can be.
I mean I knew the power of connection.
Of course, I’ve loved all the audiences I have ever broadcast or spoken to. As a producer at BBC Radio 6 Music the connection with the audience was particularly strong: so strong that people would do almost anything for us – they’d tell us personal stories, they’d recommend tracks to us and they weren’t afraid to let us know when we got it wrong too.
We got them. They got us.
But. That wasn’t me speaking to an audience, that was me powering a presenter to speak to their audience.
Everyday Positivity has taught me what it is to feel close to a tribe. These are my people. Not only do I believe that they listen to what I am saying – I would do anything for them too. And that is really special.
That unique connection is gold for any content creator. It’s what powers word of mouth growth. And it’s what the great broadcasters hold above all others.
When it comes to engaging an audience & hitting that sweet spot of being “in sync” with them, most people will tell you to be relevant to them, but how do you do that? How do you create that special something that leads to growth?
- Make It About Them
The analogy I use is that when you are worrying about what to say (this is the same in sales too) then the light is shining on you. Actually, when you are speaking to an audience you need to make sure you are shining the light on them.
What are you giving them? What are they getting from you that’s of use? What do they need from you? How are you serving them? How are you putting them in the middle of your content?
When I am doing the Everyday Positivity recordings I really believe I am speaking to that person in front of me like they are there. My thoughts are with the people I speak to on the facebook group. Equally, when I get on stage, I believe that the audience are mates that I want to excite.
You can hear this in the tone and the language of great presenters. They surprise and delight you, and it’s almost like they are in your head when they speak to you like you are with them.
2. Be Vulnerable
While performance is really important when communicating with a mass of people, having the courage to be vulnerable is vital to allowing your human to be seen.
Let me talk to you about vulnerability for a second though. There is a difference between vulnerability and oversharing. I am guilty of being an oversharer. Oversharing can be useful: it’s funny, it’s shocking and it creates a reaction. But oversharing is also a tactic to deflect people from seeing the real me. I suspect you will know what I mean when you think about your own oversharing tactics! Or indeed you will know when you have spotted it.
Oversharing needs to be used wisely.
Real vulnerability feels different. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I know when I am being vulnerable because it feels really uncomfortable! I worry that I will offend someone or that someone will laugh at me. I question it, over and over. In some cases I am terrified.
But, without fail, those are the times I get the best and biggest responses from the Everyday Positivity audience.
The more you expose the vulnerable parts of yourself, the more you attract “your people”, the more you build their trust, and that will grow your audience.
3. Live Their Life
There is no doubt that if you are living the life of your audience you can speak to them in a way that is connected. That’s why some of the best broadcasters and presenters will just tell you that they are just being themselves and that they aren’t really thinking about the audience, and it works!
But there will be times that you are speaking to an audience that isn’t “just like you”.
This means you need to put in the work.
One thing that comes up in radio a lot, is there are presenters on local radio stations, that don’t actually live in the area. It works to get those presenters to visit somewhere in the broadcast area every week at least (if not more). Sitting in different places for an hour a week and purely observing life can transform the presenter’s perspective of the area.
Do you “know the audience’s patch”? Do you go to the places they go? Do you read what they read? Do you watch what they watch? Do you understand their challenges? Do you care about what they care about?
Get into their world as much and as often as you can.
4. Be Useful To Them
This is an extension of making it about the audience. If you can help them with their life, then you have created a true impact.
Teach them something, inform them of something, share something useful with them.
In radio, I like the phrase we use: “social ammunition” – meaning the job of a presenter is to give the audience useful nuggets to talk about with their friends and colleagues during the day. News, entertainment, music, sport. All of these elements can give something to talk about that day.
In all engaging content creation, useful content is incredibly powerful. Depending on your tribe, it might be that you give tips on how to deal with imposter syndrome? Or how to lay a floor? Or just unboxing a new toy?! All of these things to the respective audiences are useful, it helps them in their day to day life, it gives them their social status, and that means you have created a real lasting impact with them.
5. Use Them
It’s definitely a 2-way street. Your aim is to build your “Know, Like, Trust” factor with your audience. You can’t expect them to trust you if you don’t trust them.
These days you have the ability to speak to the audience “off air”. The Everyday Positivity facebook group is a place where the listeners share stories and advice that I ask them for. To progress this I will be asking what they like, what they want to hear, and what they would like to be involved in.
Equally, if they feedback through the reviews that they don’t like something I use it. It guides me to be self-aware, and vulnerable. I have used it to improve my work. I have used it to understand my tribe more. I have used it as pure content.
Do not be afraid to ask your audience about what they do and what they want. You will be surprised what grows from it.
Ultimately your aim should be to impact one person, to change one person’s life. Because if you impact them then they will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, who will tell their friends…
You’ve got your presentation style sorted, you’re confident and you’re comfortable performing. So what happens when you throw another person into the mix? Contributors, guests, panellists, callers – they all add texture to your programme, podcast or conference, but your job is to get the best out of them for the audience.
Here are the things to consider before you get into it…
1.Research Your Guest
A sure fire way to make your interview go on longer than you need it to is to get your guest to tell their story ‘from the beginning’. This is fine if you are pre-recording and you have the time to edit. But if you are live you are going to need to get to the point as soon as you can.
Researching your guest means you can set the scene for them in your introduction. I say to my clients “you hold the who and what, your guest holds the why and the how”.
A well-researched interview can drive the conversation forward faster too. Imagine being able to say “you must have been having a tough time then because you were also trying to launch a community centre” rather than “so what was that like?”
Tip: It’s not always possible, but it’s good to speak to your guest before you interview them. It reassures them and it means you can suss out some of the best stories before you are on stage / on air with them.
2. The Basics: Who, What, Where, Why, When, How?
When working up your research and deciding what to ask, start with the basic questions. Make sure your audience understands who you are talking to, what they are talking about (the when and where fits in here). This is the information you need to be able to run a great interview.
One of my clients had a guest on their panel show talking about a vegan festival he was running. It wasn’t until he got on air that she discovered he wasn’t vegan. In listening back we realised there were no vegans in the room, but all the prep assumed there would be a vegan in the room. The whole segment lost its credibility. Even with the biggest of production teams, it’s easy to assume you have all the information – so questions like what, where, when, who questions will uncover all the context you need.
Stories hide in the hows, whys and “what reason”. Questions like “How did you make that happen?” or “why did you decide to do that?” then get the answers you need from your guest. Note that “what was the reason?” is a softer way of asking “why?”
3. Make It A Conversation: Listen
Have clarity about what you want to hear your guest speak about, come with a list of well-researched questions, and then the key to a great interview is to listen to what the guest says to get that second question in. This makes it more like a conversation.
Listen out for chunked up language and get the detail on it. For example:
Interviewer: “What were you like as a child?”
Guest: “I grew up in Birmingham, and my parents would probably tell you I was a wild child, but I remember it being a happy time.”
Interviewer: “When you say wild child, what did you get up to?” or “What was it like in Birmingham at that time?” or “what made it a happy time?”
The stories are in the examples, listening allows you to ask the follow-up question (which may also be a challenging question too – see 5)
4. Open, Closed and Non-Question-Questions
Open questions allow your guest to tell a story, create opinion, share knowledge and experience. Closed questions have one word or short answers. Both are useful and a mixture of both questions can make for a good interview. Closed questions are particularly good for wrapping up an interview.
Depending on your guest you might find that they are keen to talk, in which case even a closed question will bear fruitful answers. One of the best ways to bring something out of your guest is to share your own experience or story as part of the question – this is the Non-Question-Question. These questions don’t really have a question mark at the end and can start a bit like: “In my experience” or “I’ve done that before and I found x y z” makes it sound like you are chatting and it gives the guest the opportunity to share their story.
I’ve written about this before – confrontation is something people avoid, but by failing to challenge your guest you are failing to give them the opportunity to give a stronger more thought out answer.
You can soften the challenge with language like “What do you say to people who say…?” or “Some people may be thinking…”.
Often the challenge is about being curious and hunting down the why and the how of your guest’s point of view.
6. Know When To Move It On
While you should listen and acknowledge your guest, sometimes you are on a time limit and you have to wrap it up. And sometimes they are saying the same thing over and over again – it’s time to move it on. Don’t be afraid to politely interrupt them, challenge them or ask a closed question.
Ultimately, a good interview is about getting the guest to enlighten the audience. Researching, challenging and being curious will help you to get to the gold and fast.
“Be bigger with your arms” I said as my client was trying out her performance.
She moved her hands up with her elbows almost stuck to her sides.
“No bigger” hoping that she would open up her arms wide
She moved her hands out to the side and kept her elbows glued to her sides.
“Ha! Bigger than that – hold your arms to the side”
She started laughing, feeling the vulnerability, but she raised her arms and spoke her line and that was when she became the leader she should be.
Whether you are on stage, on screen or on air – the performance space shrinks you.
I always tell my clients that in the performance space you need to be vintage you plus 10% or more if you’ve got it.
That means you need to be a tiny bit bigger, louder, more vibrant than you are on a Friday night. And keeping that energy up throughout your performance is tough.
As a presenter you are like the ringmaster – your energy can change the room, and people always remember how you make them feel.
Here are my 5 tips to keeping up your energy:
- Use Your Body
Just like your brain can send messages to your body, your body can do the same to your brain, and most importantly your mouth!
I was working with a presenter who, when I said “what can you do to build your energy here?” said “well I could stand up…”.
Sit forward or stand up – your body will tell your brain to be more urgent and active, and in turn, you will have greater charisma and energy. Even if you are on the radio, be expressive with your arms and your face as this will increase your “follow the leader” vibe (eg your audience will want to come with you).
It might be that before you start speaking you do your Wonder Woman Pose, or get big, or even get your heart rate up by jumping up and down. You’ll be surprised how your vocal tone follows.
2.Use Your Voice
Your voice will give your energy away. I used to hear Mr C on the radio in the early days and I could hear when he was tired!
I think we can agree that low and monotonous vocal tone sounds very boring and will lose your audience. When you are tired your mouth also stops pronouncing your words – as if your lips get lazy!
Asking presenters to put more energy into their work means they can stumble on the following trip-ups. The first is talking too fast. More energy means more energy – not to talk like a Duracell Bunny! So remember to stay well paced. The second is that you end up just shouting. And probably monotonously.
The best for vocal tone is to remember your voice has a lot of pitches or tones within it and you can use them all in your presentation. Initially try starting sentences with emphasis and high pitched and then working “down the stairs” as you finish the sentence.
3. It Should Feel Corny
Whenever I ask presenters to be “grander” in their presentation, they find themselves feeling like they are using “obvious” language, and they feel really corny in their delivery.
I want you to consider 2 things.
Firstly – the obvious is there for a reason. Opening your best man’s speech with a well delivered “Ladies and Gentlemen” is a well trodden path for a reason: it works.
Secondly – getting comfortable with cliche is the first step to finding your own voice. Sometimes you have to open the door to the the cringe, to find what’s the other side. If you refuse to be cliche or a bit cringe from time to time, you are unlikely to find your own true voice. Treat it as part of the process.
4. You Don’t Know There Till You Go There
Rehearsal is the space where you discover your style. Use rehearsal time to try new things, and the things you are afraid of.
If you are terrified of moving your arms from your waist then try rehearsing with your hands above your head. If you are feeling shy, rehearse your talk by acting out “being really confident”, you’ll be surprised what you find.
These are my favourite moments of any of my presentation courses – the moment where a client finds their power and their energy. It’s a truly amazing moment when they let out the giggle of vulnerability, and then go for it. It’s like they light up! This moment never happens in an unprepared performance. It only happens when you push through some of your worries in your rehearsal time.
5. Prepare and Protect Your Energy
Performing can be tiring for some people. I know that when I am booked to do a talk, or when I am recording my podcast, not only do I ensure that I am eating and exercising well in the build up, I also make sure I book in some down time afterwards.
I learned this from one of the presenters I worked with at the BBC. I noticed they were deliberately booking in their rest time after any performance. They were one of the most consistent presenters I have worked with.
Another radio presenter I work with acknowledged that the quick drink after work on a Friday was affecting their Saturday performance and they were frustrated by that. They got sick of walking out of the studio feeling like they’d not been entirely on their game. They felt like they let their listener down
Your audience needs you on your A-Game. In fact they need for you to generate the energy they are lacking, through your energetic performance! Make caring for your energy levels a habit.
Ever had that feeling that your point is just not being heard?
Once a week Mr.C, the kids and I go for “Family Breakfast”. This week my son needed to do his maths homework while we were waiting for food to arrive. His head was in maths when my husband said: “Mate, we have got to sort out your handwriting”.
(For context – his teachers over the last year or so have said this is something he could do with working on)
The 11-year-old immediately went on the defensive and the usual bickering then ensued.
The outcome? Our son won’t be changing his handwriting any time soon. My husband is frustrated that yet again he’s not been heard. And in a few weeks time, the same thing will happen again. In short – no one benefits and nothing changes.
Getting someone to buy into your point is something we have to do every day, whether you are on air, on screen, on stage, in a meeting, or just trying to get the other half to empty the bins.
And this one technique never fails: start by acknowledging your audience’s reality.
You know yourself that no one is going to change your mind about anything if they start talking to you while your head is in something else. And if you’re anything like me, my head is constantly in something.
Acknowledging the reality of the person you’re talking to allows their brain to come to you before you start getting into what it is you want to ask of them.
So if my husband had taken this tack:
“Is that your maths homework? How are you getting on with it?”
He would have engaged our son immediately. And after listening he may have been able to weave the conversation to something like:
“You know your teachers were talking about you improving your handwriting? Have you been working on it at all?”
“It’s just I can’t help but notice that you’re still struggling to get it neat – is there anything we can do to help it get better?”
Yes, it takes a little longer, but it has great results.
I had a builder that wasn’t answering my calls once, we had discovered a leak as a result of some work he had done, and I needed it fixing. He wasn’t returning my calls, and then I left this message:
“Hi. I know you’re likely to be super busy and the last thing you want is this old work to come back to haunt you, so if you could give me a call we can get it off your plate and out your hair as soon as possible”
He called me before the end of the day.
On stage you often see comedians start their sets by commenting on the location, whether that be the room itself or whether that be the town.
You can do the same in your presentation with something called a “Yes Set”. This is a simple technique that encourages the audience to agree with you too.
“I know you want to get home on time today”
Audience brain: “yes”
“And that you have seen a lot of people today”
Audience brain: “yes”
“So let me get straight to the point…”
Audience brain “yes”
The challenge is that you can’t see what your audience is doing, so really you are guessing as to their reality at the moment they are listening!
Sometimes it’s safe to assume. Often acknowledging your listeners’ reality is in capturing the time of day and the sense of the day. Saying hello and letting them know where they are, also acknowledges that that is their reality (eg “this is station FM / the pod podcast”).
Taking the time to introduce a topic with the listener experience is a clear way to ensure you are acknowledging their reality.
Rather than saying “There is a survey this morning that says meat is bad for you, so we have an expert here to talk about the challenge of getting people to stop eating it”
You might say “Imagine you are happily tucking into your favorite food, for someone to tell you that it’s significantly worse for you – would that stop you from eating it?”
I like Coldplay… I really do.
In the alternative music stations I worked at, it wasn’t the “done thing” to admit this – but if you’ve ever been to a Coldplay gig, you’ll just know. In fact on New Year’s Eve my husband and I found ourselves glued to their gig on the telly recounting just how good they were when we went to see them in Manchester the year before.
Why do I like Coldplay?
Well because they “speak to me”… (no really)
Take the lyrics to “Fix You” :
“If you try your best, and you don’t succeeeeeed”
Well, actually, yes I have tried my best a million times and I haven’t succeeded! How did they know I failed at so many things?
“If you get what you want, but not what you neeeeeed”
Well, actually, yes I know what this is. I remember the time Mr C and I decided that he should work away from home because it was a great opportunity and we wanted him to do it, but then it played havoc with the needs of our relationship… How did Coldplay know I felt like that?!
Coldplay songs use language the same way that politicians and horoscopes use language. It’s “Chunked Up”.
The power of chunked up language is that the people listening to it can add their own conclusion. When Trump promised to “Make America Great Again” those followers can add their own opinions to that. When Obama said “Yes We Can” those followers could will whatever change they believed in.
In short, using language in this way is highly influential and powerful.
The language may appeal to many but the source is in the personal. When you feel something, or think something, or observe something human you can almost guarantee that there is a universal emotion or experience in it.
For example: like when I put a pair of socks in the washing machine, no matter how many times I think I’ve nailed it: only one comes out! Where does it go??
In presenting to a group of people I might say: “You know that moment you can’t find the other sock?!” – this is open enough for them to engage their own experience but it is based in my one experience.
You can keep chunking up though until you reach: “If you try your best, but you don’t succeed” 🙂
So you can use this sort of language to engage people on a larger level and to create your powerful message. However, when you are in a one to one situation and you are listening in an interview, or coaching, situation these chunked up lines are the ones to challenge.
They may come out like this: “Everyone thinks that Brexit is a bad idea”
The reply question might be “Who is ‘everyone’?”
Or “Research says that people cannot survive in this environment”
The reply might be “what research is that?” Or “what is it about that environment specifically?”
Or when your boss says: “We need to own the patch”
The reply might be “what does that look or sound like?”
The coolest thing ever about chunking up is that in a disagreement if you keep chunking up the ideas and the intent (not just the language) you will find that quite often you agree with each other. Then it is about finding the way to work out the route to getting the results you want.
So, use chunking up, and listen out for it, as it will help you gain clarity and followers! And also, Coldplay, yes?