Pesky nerves

Like almost everybody else, I have to tackle nerves from time to time. I don’t mean anxiety, as such – at least not my usual, ‘slow-burning’ experience of anxiety, the kind that surfaces when I’m not busy. Here, I’m talking about adrenaline – the intense energy which takes over when you’re put on the spot, say, during a meeting presentation.

I find I don’t panic in these situations, as I do when I convince myself I have no future, no friends, blah blah blah. In fact, at the time of speaking I feel good. Nevertheless, even a fairly small-scale presentation (around 20-25 people) normally leaves my armpits sweatier than a bog in summer. I know of some people who have it worse, who can’t get up in front of people at all, and I think I have my teaching experience to thank for my mental confidence when public speaking. But my body tells a different story.

This pesky perspiration wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that, after said presentations, conference talks, workshops, I feel exhausted. I just want to sleep, and, more worryingly, my temporary fatigue gives rise to negative emotions and thoughts: ‘Why were you so worked up?’ ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ‘Why can’t you be an adult about all this?’

The infuriating paradox is that, as said above, I am a good public speaker – I’m articulate, I make jokes, I smile in the right places. When teaching, my mentors commented on my apparent confidence, and the same has been said to me several times since leaving Teach First. So what’s going on?

The answer, from me, is that really I don’t know. But I suspect that my mind has gotten used to ‘hushing’ a response which my body is still very much influenced by. I’m not as ‘okay’ as I believe; rather, I’m used to being nervous, instead of eliminating the source of the nerves. So, in the interest of protecting my colleagues’ poor noses, I’m outlining three important (if a little over-used) tips on keeping the adrenaline within control – hopefully they can help some of you!

  1. People, especially colleagues, want information, not a performance (unless that’s your line of work). It’s silly to focus on yourself when you’re discussing the data analytics of your clients, or the feedback of a recent survey. Shift your mindset to prioritise the info – it’ll take some of the heat off your self-esteem!
  2. The majority of people are more capable than they think they are. Cliched, I know, but I choose to believe this. Stop looking for what’s going to go wrong, or at least give equal weight to what you’re doing well.
  3. Breathe. Obvious, I know, but there’s a reason why yoga instructors always seem so cool. Without proper respiration, you’re working at pretty shitty capacity. The trick is to balance this with the task at hand, without losing focus on either. I like to imagine myself through an x-ray lens, looking at my heart and making sure, visually, that it’s keeping steady. Weird, I know, but the point is, you do what you need to!
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