Nerves vs. Excitement:
How To Manage Nerves And Perform At Your Best
I love speaking at events. Right before I go on stage I get a bump of adrenaline that takes me from the every-day and puts me smack in the middle of the moment. I’m buzzing and I feel like a rock star.
But what if you don’t feel the buzz? What if you can’t banish nerves and perform at your best in a meeting or speaking at a conference? What if the buzz feels like panic or fear?
Nerves vs. excitement is a dichotomy that has flummoxed many coaches and performers alike. The question is: Which is which and how do you recognize which one you’re feeling? Here are 5 tips to recognizing when you’re feeling nervous/excited and what to do about it.
Change The Way You Think And Speak About Nerves
We’re so used to using the word ‘nervous’ when we talk about feeling panicked or terrified in speaking situations that it’s deeply embedded in our psyche. Changing your vocabulary is a very powerful and indelible way to change how you feel when it comes to nerves vs. excitement.
Use the phraze ‘I’m excited about speaking today’ instead of ‘I’m so nervous!’. When you begin to speak differently about how you feel, it will start to translate into how you feel. Your body will follow your thinking.
Also, instead of thinking about how you can avoid feeling nervous, think about how you can manage the energy you feel. There’s no magic bullet when it comes to nervous energy. No technique is going to make you feel instantly different. Well, maybe a Xanax but if it’s about being present in the moment, that’s not an option!
Start thinking, ‘What can I do to manage this energy’ and the task becomes one of problem solving instead of a permanent state of being. So the word ‘avoid’ becomes ‘manage’. When you change the way you talk about how you feel, you’ll start thinking differently. Words are powerful and choosing what words you use will bring about a massive mental shift and ultimate a physical one.
Trust The Science
There are a lot of similar physical indicators that happen when you’re ‘nervous’. Your heart rate goes up, you talk faster, you think faster, your voice might shake, your hands shake, you might get sweaty palms…. there are so many physical things that happen when you get ‘nervous’.
But what happens when you get over excited about something? Your heart rate goes up, you talk faster, you think faster, your voice might shake, your hands shake, you might get sweaty palms…. sound familiar? Pretty much exactly the same physical indicators happen when you’re nervous or excited.
Fight Or Flight Instinct
Physically what’s happening is that your brain is registering that you’re entering a situation where you’re uncomfortable. You don’t want to be there. And your brain says, ‘OK. We are NOT comfortable here so either run away or start swinging punches!’. This is the fight or flight instinct and completely natural. But you can’t do either one of those things, so your body goes into melt down. And you freeze.
So. We need to rewire your brain and help it to see that this is NOT a life or death situation and you’re actually ok. The next step is to take action.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is simple. Breathing is a powerful tool that every speaker, performer, and communicator should have in their tool box.
When you take a deep, belly-breathing breath (diaphragmatic breathing) you start to trick your body into thinking that it’s actually ok and it doesn’t have to run away or start throwing punches. Breathing also helps to ground you and get out of your head and into your body, which is a much more powerful place than your panicked thoughts.
Breathing also helps bring oxygen into your body. Oxygen is a feel-good element and helps to calm you and center you. Sometimes the body needs to know that it’s ok and deep, slow breaths can help you to tell the body just that.
Remember: It’s Not About You
Here’s a really easy one to put into practice right away. Always remember that even though you’re speaking or presenting to get a certain result, you are there to give your audience what they need. Then, you can feel excited about why you’re there instead of terrified you won’t be brilliant. When you come from a place of giving the audience something useful for them to takeaway, you take the pressure off yourself to do well.
Yes, you have an agenda and are clear about the result you want from every communication situation. But if you want to get that result, the audience MUST feel that it’s about them. People can feel excitement from you. Just as they can feel nervousness. It’s all in the intention.
Audiences are selfish. They want it all to be about them. So put the spotlight on what you can give the audience instead of what you can get and you’ll in turn get what you want.
Practice, Practice. And Then Practice Some More
Practice and preparation are absolutely essential in helping you to feel less panicked or scared. Know that you’ve done the work and you have everything you need in this moment. When you’re prepared, you are more likely to feel excited rather than nervous.
Put the time in and get clear on your story. Then, practice with specific intention in mind. What are you practicing? What skills? Be clear and you’ll get so much more out of your practice time.
At the end of the day, your brain is probably the most powerful tool you have when it comes to feeling excited rather than nervous. Take it one step and one situation at a time. Practice shifting your thinking once, then again, then again, and soon you’ll find that you are managing that bump of adrenal better and better.
So when it comes to nerves vs. excitement, focus on what you can give rather than what you can get and you’re on the road to enjoying the buzz instead of dreading it!