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…
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.