Friday, 17 December 2010

How to deal with nerves: at work, on stage or just about anywhere

We all get nervous.  It is absolutely normal. 
Whether it's before a big presentation with clients, when you have to stand up and sing or even when you have to deliver good news to a large group of friends, 'If you're not nervous,' as Lawrence Olivier said, 'you're dead'.  And you will be dead to your audience if you don't care about the information you are about to share with them, so it is important to realise that nerves are necessary for a great performance.
However, be aware that nerves are an indication that you might need to prepare and rehearse your presentation a little bit more.
Also, most people think that they have a body, not that they are their body.  Nerves are there to protect you in case of threat, so your body is instigating 'Fight or Flight' and a few physical stretches can help your body cope with the enormous levels of chemicals produced by your brain to help you in case you come under attack.
AND BREATHE...low 'belly' breathing will help you to stay calm.


  • Focus on the message when you become nervous, not what the nerves are doing to you and your body.
  • Accept what your nerves do to you (and your body) and realise that nerves are necessary for presenting successfully.
  • Stand Centre Stage at the beginning and the end of your presentation.  It shows courage and conviction in your message.
  • Warm up your body before you get on stage.  Think more yogic than athletic in preparing your body for a 'performance'.
  • Say a few tricky words aloud from your presentation before you start your presentation.
  • Find a private space to yawn and stretch: this will help your body prepare itself.
  • Say a few tongue twisters such as 'Will you Wait for Willie and Winnie' or "Eleven Benevolent Elephants'.
  • Don’t be afraid to look at your audience and engage in small talk with them before you start speaking.
  • Maintain eye contact and ‘lighthouse’ the space with your eyes: making eye contact with everyone. Don’t stare just at one person.
  • Focus on the friendly faces initially, and then move to look at others (even if they are not looking at you).
  • Memorise your introduction.  This will help because people are usually the most nervous at the beginning of a presentation.
  • If you can influence the order of presenters, don’t follow a great presenter. Go before them.
  • Smile if appropriate.  If you want to know how you look to your audience look at them...if they look miserable, usually you do as well.
  • Stand up in meetings occasionally to make a point, to get used to how if feels to stand up and communicate to an audience.


Remember that most people in the audience want you to do well.  There may be a few horrible people that are praying that you fail miserably however the majority of the audience is on your side and they wouldn't be in the same room with you if they didn't at least hope that you could give them something of interest to them.  So give the audience what they came for and then get off stage.

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