Harnessing Your Presentation Nerves

Here's some advice on how to handle nerves whilst speaking in public I was given when I first started out.

Imagine your audience are all sitting on the toilet. That advice only made me chuckle so I couldn't use that. Then I was shown the image of butterflies flying all around your stomach and was told to make sure these butterflies flew in formation, and this was to banish my nerves. Let me tell you butterflies in formation are no much better than butterflies in a free for all. Next I was told to imagine my audience were stark naked and this had a similar result to the toilet.

Finally someone gave me some solid advice. Rename nerves and call it adrenaline. The advice went on to say that you'll never get rid of them; use them to your advantage, since you need adrenaline to do a good job. When I was told this many moons ago it put it all into context.

But you will get nerves or adrenaline flushes before presenting. If you don't then stop speaking in public because you don't care anymore. You need adrenaline as this makes you do your utmost best. Controlling this natural energy is vital. Here's 4 ways of handling the adrenaline to your advantage.

Go Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision was taught to me a few years ago. Now I've always struggled to have a wide peripheral vision apparently because I'm a man. Women have naturally more powerful peripheral vision and that's just because women's brains are wired differently. My mum always had eyes in the back of her head.

So what does this have to do with adrenaline control? Well, imagine you're up on your stage and feeling a little anxious and energetic. Maybe you're being introduced or you have a natural moment to pause. Focus on a point in front of you and stretch your peripheral vision right down to your ears and imagine these are your extra eyes.

Do this for a few seconds and you will relax. How? The brain is wired so that you cannot consciously process nerves and peripheral vision simultaneously. Clever isn't it? Try it next time, it really does work.

Lubricate your mouth

As a speaker, your voice is by far the most important asset, only second to your body. By the way, PowerPoint comes down very low in priority. Your voice is the vehicle in which the message is given to your audience so make sure it is ready and willing. There are some things you can do beforehand to make your voice sing, but that's the subject of a different article. But what can you do if your mouth is drying up and the water is miles away from where you're standing?

If you have slightly less than a minute available to you, tear a tiny piece of paper millimetres in size, and fold it into a tiny ball. Wedge this in the back of your mouth behind your teeth, so you don't swallow. Make sure no one can see you doing this otherwise they'll think you're taking drugs, and we don't want that do we?

Your mouth now thinks there's something in there and will automatically produce saliva. And that's what you want...to lubricate your mouth at that vital moment. Try it, but do practise first, it does work.

Taking a Slurp

On the subject of dry mouths, the next tip was given to me about 10 years ago by a chap called Frank. Now Frank was from the East End of London and had a wonderful gritty accent. Now when Frank got lost or wanted to check his notes, he would call out to the audience that he wanted a "slurp". Off he went to the side of the room where he kept his bottle of water and glass. He would make a song and dance over opening the bottle and fizzy was best. It made a loud psst when it was opened and he poured the water vigorously into his glass and took a couple a big slugs. All of this was done very dramatically and sure enough, many of the audience would copy if they had water in front of them.

Meanwhile Frank could have a good look at his notes to see where he was and to settle down any nerves he might have had. Very clever.

Whilst on the subject of notes, you should have them. Not a script of your speech but something containing bullets or reminders of what to say next. Now Frank would never hold onto his notes as that stilted his body language and use of gestures. Care with using PowerPoint as your notes, many people do it. If you do this you'll end up having a slide for every single part of your presentation since they are your notes. You'll end up being accused of "Death by PowerPoint" and you don't want that.

Visualise to Success

My final tip for you to overcome your nerves or ensure they're channelled to assist you not hinder you is major dollops of visualisation. Now this is not new at all and many sport stars use this to increase their success.

Muhammad Ali was perhaps the greatest champion of visualisation. He called it Future History and would predict the result of all his fights. And he got it right many more times than he got it wrong. "Ashley Moore, I'll have you down in four" And he did.

You see the way the brain is wired ensures that if you visualise and imagine an event in your head and if you do this strongly enough. I mean really intensely. Colour, movement, panoramic views, sounds, people, laughter and you part of it, then the brain will eventually believe it to be true.

So next time you have a big speech coming up. Play a movie in your head of it all going very well indeed. Maybe even a standing ovation. Go on really pump up the success in the movie. Only you know it's there.

Paul is an international speaker, sales trainer, author and coach based in the UK. His expertise and experience is in selling and sales coaching, his books and articles focus on rapport selling which puts the customer at the heart of the sale. Visit his website http://www.archertraining.co.uk to sign up for his Weekly Sales and Coaching Tips or visit his blog at http://www.paularcher.com where you'll find his unique style of weekly blog posts for you to enjoy. paul@paularcher.com