The Nerve: 4 Ways to Take Charge of Jitters

=tribune speeches room microphone

Prepare to Not Wuss Out Under Pressure

Sometimes, we have it down cold. Then, just when it’s time to show it, we blow it.  From deer-in-headlights, sweating, shaking, can’t-do-it anxiety to mildly annoying apprehension, nerves are natural responses to being watched, heard, or evaluated.

Old adages don’t help. Butterflies don’t fly in formation, so our imaginations just snicker at that impossibility.  Visualizing the audience undressed or in some other vulnerable position requires too much psychic stress to conjure too many unwelcome images.

Fortunately, some tricks do work when we’re on the spot. Here are four:

Line up the three most important points you want to deliver.

This works for a speech, a client pitch, an interview or a difficult conversation.  Mnemonic devices, even silly ones, help ensure we hit the main points we want to express.  Examples:

  • Suppose you’re talking about overcoming obstacles with a series of anecdotes or quotes. ABC could be my “(A)pple” story, (B)and practice anecdote and (C)harlie Brown’s philosophy;
  • For an interview: “LAWMy (L)eadership experience anecdote, what I learned with Professor (A)dams, and why my (W)ork ethic is right for this position.
  • When you’re persuading a team, to change course: (W)here we can go, possible (O)utcomes, evidence for a (N)ew approach – WON.

Three is a magic number, but 2 or 4 or 5 will work. It’s the structure that sees you through.

Pick a Win.

Identify more than one “winning” outcome to go for.  Suppose you don’t get the promotion, win the prize or receive a standing ovation; what are your corollary goals. What will you commit to gain from the experience?  Preparation for the next opportunity; new connections?  For sure, you can learn from preparing and practicing, and get better at keeping your cool.   Choose something that’s worth going for. It’s way easier to relax, knowing that some good results are coming your way.

Power Pose. 

Before show time, imitate Wonder Woman or Superman by posing in private for about 2 minutes, as recommended in social psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy, author of “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.” See her famous TED talk on body language.

Clear the Mind.

Seasoned meditator or not, anyone can use meditative or repetitive ‘chants’ to displace worries about an upcoming performance.  I’m not thinking “ommm”, necessarily:  songs, poems, prayers and even long quotes read aloud make it almost impossible to obsess about anything. Clearing the mind moves you toward fresh presence, calm and perspective.

Finally, consider welcoming the jitters. Look, you’ve chosen a challenge that carries risk and the natural anxiety that goes with it.  You could have chosen something easier and less stressful, but where’s the fun – or the growth – in that?