Not only do I think it’s a myth that if you “pretend your audience is naked, you’d not be nervous”, I find it a disrespectful statement to people who do the diligent work, put themselves out there, risk the embarrassment and make a connection with the audience.
Who am I to say this? Prior to TTL, I had been a corporate executive communications trainer and coach for 8 years. I worked as a consultant which means no work was guaranteed. I had to produce results and get invited back. So I know a thing or two about presenting.
What should we do instead? First of all, quit trying to fight the nervousness. It’s a losing battle. The harder we push the more energy we waste. It’s fine to do warm ups, meditations or whatever ritual you find helpful. More importantly, though nervousness has got a bad name, it’s just a kind of energy. Once you learn how to deal with it, you can make it work for you.
When you feel nervous, accept it. Or better yet, embrace it. It means you care. Good for you! You care about how people perceive you. You don’t want to be judged. You are afraid of looking foolish. Admit that. Congratulations you are human like all of us.
There is a wise Chinese saying “以毒攻毒”. Google translate says “Fight Fire With Fire”. When you are nervous, your focus is on yourself and how you are doing. That’s the wrong place. You don’t look at the audience because you are afraid of their disapproval. What I am asking you to do is, look at them.
Yes it takes courage. And there is an art to it. Not the whole audience, but just one. One person you hand pick from the crowd. A person you find non-threatening enough to look at for at least 2 minutes. Why 2 minutes? It’s long enough to get you grounded. When you find that person, look at her. Not her forehead, in between the eyebrows or the back of the head. Look at her face like you are supposed to when you are talking to a person. With the trembling voice, shaky hands and all, just look at her. Use all the discipline you have to not shift and scan the room, even if you are saying “Good morning everyone. Thank you all for being here.” Resist the urge to “address the audience”, because there is no “audience”. There are only individuals.
When you dare to look at one individual and talk to her, you start focusing on the most important person in a presentation – the person you are talking to. Then magically, your presentation becomes a conversation. You react accordingly to the nod or confusion on her face. In fact, you have moved on from one person to another. People are getting it. The reward for being brave? You are not nervous anymore. You might be excited. You are connecting with the audience members, one person at a time. You know when people say “it felt like the presenter was talking to me even when she wasn’t looking at me”? This is how you do it.
Try it. It works.
By Dianna Chung, ThinkTank Learning Admissions Consultant/Academic Counselor