I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking and used to get very nervous. Here’s what works for me: Become the content.
It’s not about me. When I think about “me” while speaking, I being to “feed back,” like an oversensitive microphone. That creates a feedback loop: “Oh, I feel a little nervous, do they detect it? Uh oh, now I’m really feeling it. Yes, that quaver in my voice and hesitation were obvious! Now I’m really nervous! How do I get out of this?!” And so on.
When a microphone squawks, it is “feeding back.” The microphone is no longer a conduit but is allowing it’s own response to itself to amplify that response and affect the output. The moment I find myself thinking about myself — going into “feedback mode” — I switch gears to focus on content, content, content. My job as a speaker is not to think about how I am doing. My job is to make the ideas coming through me as clear and as interesting as possible.
The audience’s reaction is their business. That also isn’t about me. It’s about them. The feedback loop can start there, too, if I let that affect the presentation. If they laugh at the right places, great. But whether or not they do, it’s about their reaction to the opportunity for a laugh. Of course some jokes just don’t work. But if I have tested the jokes, they are known to work, and my timing is on, it’s now in the audience’s hands. Whether or not they applaud, it’s still not about me. My focus is to give them the very best chance to “get it.” When I’ve done that, I sometimes join the audience in appreciating the ideas I managed to get across. “Hey, that was good content, wasn’t it?”
It’s like singing a song. Here is a beautiful song. My job is to do my best to not worry about myself or you, but to let you hear the beauty I know is there. The experience of channeling the content can be exhilarating. Only at the end do I allow myself the joy of success or disappointment at achieving something less. That’s “me time.” Whatever the outcome, I am confident it wasn’t about me “feeding back.”
This post began life as a comment on a beautifully done article on overcoming fear of public speaking by Keith Davis.