Are you a nervous speaker?
I definitely am from time to time. And I’m guessing that, since you’re reading this, you probably are as well. But don’t worry, you can change your outlook, improve and regain control over your body, mind and the crowd you’re pitching to.
I’m not big on quotes in any way, but the past seven years I’ve had this picture hanging in my bedroom:
Shantideva, who uttered the quote sometime in the eighth-century, was an indian buddhist monk who took monastic ordination and devoted himself to the thorough study of the buddhist sutras and tantras. It was during his period at the monastic university of Nalanda, India, that he wrote his two classical works, in one of which this quote can be found.
I’m going to be honest, I haven’t read the works, I’m more of Marx- and Latour-kinda guy. I just stumbled on this quote in a newsletter from zenpencils.com seven years ago, and it somehow resonated enough for me to turn this picture into a poster and hang it in my bedroom as a daily reminder, that there is neither a need or use for worrying about the things I can’t change.
Imagine this: you’re nervous as hell the day before you’re supposed to be pitching in front of potential investors, partners or buyers, and you just can’t shake the feeling. What do you do?
You stop worrying.
Why? Because you know how expensive a bad pitch can be. It can mean you don’t get the funds you’re gunning for, the job, promotion or even the simple respect you deserve in the boardroom.
But how do you stop worrying?
Nervousness can be hard to avoid, but with a lot of practice anyone can overcome it. According to Medical Daily, the experience of nervousness comes from “the power of the unconscious mind [which] lies in its ability to sense danger ahead of time, marshaling our sympathetic nervous system to prepare our bodies for oncoming danger”.
This means that you basically have to take control over your mind and your body. And then the only thing that you cannot control, which is your audience, you just have to stop worrying about, because, like Shantideva said: “what’s the use?”
Here are five great ways to cope with nervousness:
Mental Imagery. You simple imagine that you’re acing your performance, and you are doing everything by the book, and literally nobody else in the room has anything on you as a person or as a professional. It sounds simple, and that’s because it is. Top performing athletes do this all the time. They imagine themselves practicing a certain skill while they’re performing it, and while it may sound crazy, this actually stimulates the right neurons in the brain and has been shown to enhance the specific skill they’re performing.
Motivational Specific imagery, encourages athletes to recall winning an event or beating a competitor. As a motivational skill, you can do the same whether you’re pitching to colleagues, fellow students or an investor. Simply imagine what you gain from your pitch, and focus on that end goal as a motivational tool.
Motivational General Mastery, is commonly used by athletes to feel more confident. By them simply imagining themselves as focused, tough, and having positive thoughts prior to competition, athletes are able to improve performance and overcome nerves. Confidence, in particular, is a consistent factor that distinguishes successful athletes from other athletes, and a major focus for professional coaches.
Power-Pose. Before I go up in front of an audience, I always do a two minute power-pose. I spread my legs so that my feet are aligned with my shoulders, I put my hands on my belt and I breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose with a 3-5 second delay in-between. Doing this allows me regain total control over my body, and my posture. Afterwards I feel like I’m ready to invade a neighboring country – nothing can stand in my way. And if I meet skepticism along the way of my presentation, I power-pose to open up to it: By doing so gives the audience the illusion that I’m open to their criticism, while I secretly cope with my crushing nervousness, whilst maintain a positive body language.
And most importantly:
Practice. If you’re not ready to read up on mental acuity-techniques, then I solely suggest you practice. You practice, then you practice some more, then you rinse and repeat until you can almost say your presentation backwards. But you’re probably thinking that nobody, if very few people at least, can remember every single word in a seven minute pitch or presentation, no matter how hard they practice it. But here’s the thing: Your audience doesn’t know that you can’t remember 20% of what you intended to say. So what’s the use of worrying about it? Improvise!
To them you’re presenting 100% of your pitch. And that’s all that counts. This is also a great way for you to control the crowd and prepare for any potential questions, because if you start feeling uncomfortable saying a specific thing – then just don’t say it. Save it for when the questions come. Besides, if you did miss something along the way the audience will surely ask questions, and since you already practiced, giving concise answers makes you look like a professional.
Now go get ‘em tiger!
Until next week, have a Pitcherific day!