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A practical guide on how to turn nerves into excitement

9 February 2023

We are going to look at steps you can take to learn how to turn nerves into excitement as most of us – even the most experienced raconteurs – struggle with public speaking nerves. When we work with clients they often say:

“I don’t like the feeling of all eyes on me”.

“I feel exposed and in the spotlight”.

“Everyone’s watching me”.

That’s actually a primal fear. Psychologists believe that prehistoric humans perceived being the centre of attention as an existential threat. Eyes on you probably meant predators’ eyes on you, and no one wanted to be eaten alive. It’s likely that our amygdala – the part of our brain that coordinates a response to danger – went into overdrive, triggering our fight-or-flight impulse. The result? Intense stress and a surge of adrenaline in the moment.

Out of the cave and into a conference room 

The upshot is that humans have translated an ancient fear of being watched into the cold-lit conference halls and board rooms of modern-day public speaking. Although there’s now little chance of being immediately eaten alive, the physical stress response is in our DNA. Public speaking therefore feels like a very real threat, triggering bodily reactions to danger, like palpitations, shaking, a red face, and so on.

It’s understandable that, when our brains are telling our bodies we are under threat, we find ways to mitigate that threat – to almost wall ourselves off from the source (the audience). Sound familiar?

how to turn nerves into excitement

How can we manage feeling nervous?

Fortunately, studies have shown one way how to turn nerves into excitement is that we can calm the amygdala in public speaking situations by turning the focus away from ourselves – away from whether we’ll mess up or the audience will like us – and towards helping the audience. When we are kind to others, we feel less stressed about ourselves.

Yes, that’s hard to do. Start with three steps:

  1. Prep for your audience

Don’t start with the topic, start with your audience.  Prepare by asking yourself: What do you want them to know? who will be there? Why have they come? What else do they need? Be specific, and then craft your message to directly address those needs.

  1. Reframe and refocus

Nerves hit their peak just before we start speaking – when the brain is shouting “everyone will judge you. What if you fail?” That’s the time to reframe the problem. Remind yourself that you’re here to help your audience, and be firm with your brain. Over time, telling yourself “this presentation isn’t about me; it’s about what my audience needs” will change your physiology.

  1. Make eye contact

Rather than scanning the room and connecting with no one – or focusing on your notes or slides rather than the group – make eye contact with lots of individuals. By hovering on someone for the duration of a point or thought, you’ll make your audience feel like you are just talking to them. This is hard. Most of us try to scan the entire room and making eye contact with strangers may feel confronting. The science, however, says that the more you practice eye contact, the less nervous you’ll feel.

Struggle with eye contact? Look at people’s foreheads – they’ll still feel like you’re talking to them, and you’ll still feel like you’re focusing on individuals rather than a room full of people.

It’s because we care

Ultimately, the stakes are high because you care about this speech. You want people to connect with your points and take something important away with them. By reframing the experience into one of excitement and generosity, you’ll train your brain to gradually switch off that distressing fight-or-flight response. Try it and let us know how you get on.

If you are still struggling on how to turn nerves into excitement and want to excell at presenting in front of a crown then we can do one to one presentation training to help you achieve your goals, contact us today.