To stand on stage and perform feels vulnerable, so when you are on a line up with other speakers, that’s when the comparison voice kicks in.
I’m sat watching the guy who is speaking before me. He is really funny. Like really funny. I’m not that funny. And he has no notes – how is he doing all this without notes?
Then the next lady steps on the stage and she is covering really similar stuff to me, so obviously my brain starts up: “they are going to find out that you aren’t as clever as you make out”. And again “oh she is putting this message together much better than you do”…
And then your brain hits you with this doozy: “Are you sure you’re good enough?”
Brene Brown says that “Comparison is the killer of creativity and joy”.
And as I sat there trying to stop myself from going into a flat spin, I started to deploy the methods I use that remind me of the only thing that can stop you from killing your creativity and joy…
Remember that You are You.
I get all my clients to establish who they are before doing anything else. Understanding what you bring to the table, where your strengths lie, and what you are trying to achieve, eradicates comparison. All that matters is that you are attempting to be the best you can be, in line with your own values. Grasp this, and then suddenly you won’t be worrying about what others do.
Presenter Chris Evans said on his first Virgin Radio show in January “If anyone is any good then there is room for everyone”. He was replying to those who were curious about any competition between him and his old Radio 2 show. He’s right.
I also used to get really worried that I wasn’t as good as other people doing what I do. That was until I started to realise that there wasn’t one or two people that I was in competition with… there are thousands of people doing it, all over the world. All I can do is do the best I can to help the people I want to help.
Of course, competition is useful, It spurs us on and helps us to be better, and competition is fuelled by comparison. So, be clear on who you are, what you want people to remember, and focus on that. You can wave goodbye to comparisonitis.
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.
The saying goes “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. The thing with “just speaking” is we think that we can do it. That if we have the words and the reminders in front of us it will be fine. We are all born communicators so think it’s OK to just open our mouths and talk.
I came across the idea of rehearsal when I was part of a pitch for a BBC Radio programme. The production company I worked with made us all sit in a room and rehearse. It wasn’t scripted, we just spent the day before going over and over the content till we all know what we were saying and why we were saying it.
It was an incredible experience, and an approach only a skilled presenter (our boss at the time) would have suggested. We got to practice the words we were going to say, not just point at each other and say “you do that bit and I’ll do that bit”.
I’m not going to lie to you – it was weird and awkward sat with my colleagues revealing what I was going to say in that “sell yourself” voice I use in a pitch! The best thing about it was it gave them the chance to give me feedback (“don’t use that voice Kate”), tweak what they were going to say, and it became like a performance.
When we got into the pitch it sounded natural, and we were all able to back each other up. We coped with all the questions (yes we rehearsed those too). We were able to walk out of that pitch and truthfully say we had done everything we could have done. Thankfully we won it. And I would put the rehearsal time as one of the key factors to that.
Rehearsal means you can cope with anything.
From the first time you talk in a meeting, to the pitch being shortened all of a sudden, to reading the script handed to you, and even that break up you have planned – rehearsal can really help.
So how do you get the best out of your rehearsal time?
- Repetition Repetition Repetition (Repetition Repetition Repetition)
Say it over and over and over again. I tell clients that you need to rehearse your piece at least 6 times before you perform it. If you are reading it takes that many read-throughs before you even start to sound natural. And by putting a number on it – it makes you think about how you manage your time right?
In reality, there is a good chance that you will get your words sorted the night before and at that point, I would suggest that you at least read through once or twice so that your performance is not the first time you say it!
By rehearsing like this you are giving yourself the opportunity to set it in your mind, but most importantly you are giving your face the chance to get its muscle memory sorted! Getting your mouth around your thoughts and words as they come out the first time is tough. Give yourself the opportunity to focus on what you are saying rather than stumbling over your thoughts.
2. Secret Rehearsal
This is my favourite. This is rehearsing in front of people and they have no idea.
For example: If you want to get rid of your “erms” then practice avoiding them while in conversation today. The person you are talking to will have no idea!
A mate of mine confessed that when she realised she had to get better at presentations she would stand with her family in her kitchen and try things out, without them knowing. She’d experiment with body language, expression and words! It’s a great technique to see what works and feels right for you. And it means you don’t always have to wait for the house to be empty to start talking to yourself.
3. You Don’t Know There Until You go There
Are you afraid you are talking too fast? If so, try speaking slower. The idea of it often feels so weird that you don’t even try it. So by rehearsing speaking so slow, it feels super super weird then it enables you to discover that actually speaking at a good pace, feels more comfortable than you thought.
If you’re afraid of telling stories, in your rehearsal tell wild stories that you would never do in your pitch, just because sometimes, you might discover something you can use.
You don’t know that until you go there. Use your rehearsal time to discover quirks, fix your own limiting beliefs and talking bugs. No one will know, so just try it.
I know. You hate hearing your own voice back. I hate to break it to you: I meet very few people who are comfortable with the sound of their own voice, let alone like it. The people who do are the ones who have been broadcasting for a long time. So I need you to face into the pain of hearing yourself back because one of 2 things will happen: either you will think “that wasn’t as bad as I thought” or you will think “right I know how to make that bit better now”.
That wasn’t so tough, was it?
A lot of the time our lack of confidence is rooted in what we think we look or sound like. We think everyone can see how nervous we are. That everyone can hear the voice in our head saying “you are talking total rubbish and no one cares!”
Actually, once we see/hear ourselves our self-awareness improves and we see that no one can see that bundle of nerves rattling around inside our tummy. And that no one would have known that you made a mistake. We see we are competent, and that builds confidence.
I heard on a documentary about Prince that he would say to his band: “Novices practice. Professionals rehearse”
You are not a novice.