Most people get nervous when faced with having to give a presentation or speak in public, but it's not just a modern fear.
In 200BC, the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar said:
"Many are ready to even die in battle, but few can face an assembly without nerves" - meaning many in his tribe would rather take an axe to the face than give an update at the War Chiefs meeting.
Why are you nervous?
So it's natural to get nerves before a pitch or important meeting - but why?
Well, basically, you're an idiot and you think you're about to die.
Facing a sea of eyes is an intimidating feeling, one which harks back to our ancestors - if you're on the Serengeti with lots of eyes staring at you, chances are you're about to be eaten.
Years later, your body still produces the same fight-or-flight reflex.
The thing to remember is that, although it might feel awful, it's designed to help you.
It's a natural response designed to get you out of a lion attack, or being trapped in a lift with Katie Hopkins.
Your subconscious is stepping in like a handy mate in a scrap - making you wittier, faster and sexier. Maybe not sexier.
It's giving you the edge over your audience and bringing you clarity - if you let it.
So that's what's happening.
Here's 5 ways to make it work for you.
1. Reframe the situation.
Reposition the presentation to take the pressure off you. Remember why you're up there - focus on the audience.
If you can shift your mindset from being all about you to being all about the audience, you'll be much more relaxed. Focus on what you want them to feel, what they'll find interesting, what they'll want to take away from your speech.
This leaves no room to feel sorry for yourself - no space for you to dwell on bad outcomes, and no capacity for panic.
2. Focus on engaging
OK, as a header, this is on a par with "don't be shit", but hear me out.
Sometimes a crowd can take a while to warm up, but there's a few tricks you can use to turn a cold crowd into an engaged audience.
If the venue is small enough, introduce yourself to as many people as you can.
This establishes immediate connections and relaxes you, as it reminds you the audience is made up of people just like you.
They're probably quite nice.
You'll like them before you take the stage - and that will show.
When you do and start speaking, you'll connect with the people you've met and use them as glowing hotspots in a gradually warming sea of faces.
3. Visualise success
Many people find this works wonders.
Spend a few minutes ahead of the pitch imagining a successful outcome in as much detail as you can - the laughs of the wedding crowd, the grateful sobs of the client as he begs for your business, being carried shoulder-high from the care home.
Think about what success looks like and make it part of your memory in advance.
Felix Baumgartner did, just before he plummeted out of a very very high-up balloon. As he explained in The Telegraph:
"I did this jump a thousand times in my mind. I think about how it will feel, what it will look like. The more you can turn thoughts into reality, the better you are."
4. Dissipate nerves with your body and breath
Some classic warm up techniques will help here:
Move. Walk. Roll your shoulders. Lunge. Get your body limber and blood flowing.
The Electric Boogaloo, the Caterpillar, and The Running Man are great too.
Warm up your voice, so your first sound on stage isn't a strangled yelp.
Make some noises. Sing a few notes. Then rap Alphabet Aerobics by Blackalicious.
5. Trust your brain
There's a reason many comedians hone their material onstage - their brain is working better due to the pressure to perform. Yours will too.
That's the beauty of adrenaline. Your brain will show up, even if you're convinced it's actually hiding in a toilet backstage.
The best thing you can do is trust it - interjections, objections, a heart attack in the third row - your brain will handle it if you let it.
I hope this helped and next time you feel butterflies in your stomach, you'll remember they're working for you.
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