How to succeed at work despite sweaty palms, nervous stomachs


For the Mirror

Want to land your dream job?Earn higher grades? Get a job promotion? Earn more money? Most people would answer “yes” to these questions. However, only a few will do what it takes to realize these goals.

One way is to be an effective presenter.

Fear stops many of us from learning public speaking. Psychologists have several names for it: Speech anxiety, communication apprehension, stage fright, nervousness and just plain fear. We all have fear, but with courage and practice we can overcome it.

According to “2000 Book of Lists,” public speaking was ranked as the number one fear of Americans. Death was ranked number four. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld once noted, “That means people would rather be in the box than giving the eulogy.” As funny as that sounds, it is not far from the truth.

Most people are naturally nervous about presentations. Actually, a bigger concern is a speaker who is not afraid at all. One social scientist observed, “A speaker who is as cool as a cucumber is just about as interesting as a cucumber.” Seattle Sonics point guard Ray Allen summed up the reason for performance anxiety succinctly before a game: “Of course I am nervous. I want to perform my best.”

There are two types of stage fright, according to communication researcher and author Ronald Adler: Debilitative, which stops you from performing and facilitative, which helps you to perform better.

Debilitative stage fright manifests in our physical body with the following reactions: Sweaty palms, nervous stomach, shaky hands, rapid heartbeat, perspiration, hot or red face, a pale face, shaky knees, voice cracking and dry mouth. Have you ever had any of these conditions?

Facilitative stage fright manifests in our physical body with the following reactions: Sweaty palms, nervous stomach, shaky hands, rapid heartbeat, perspiration, hot or red face, a pale face, shaky knees, voice cracking, and dry mouth.

Sounds like the same list, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Our bodies go through identical physical responses. The difference is our attitude towards those responses.

How and why do some people overcome these fears to succeed as speakers?

Survival. They do it because it leads to better jobs, higher grades, job promotions, and more money. Top executives at any organization have one thing in common: they are nearly all good presenters. This is no accident.

People who can present well get noticed and, therefore, get promotions. It isn’t always the best-qualified person who gets the job or pay raise. It isn’t always the best student who gets the highest grades. It is the one who stands out; the ones people notice. My old college professor used to say, “If you don’t speak up, there won’t be a place for you at the table.”

But being afraid of presentations shouldn’t stop us from doing them. Be afraid, but don’t avoid speaking in public. Besides taking a speech course, here are a few strategies for harnessing the fear and making it work for you:

1. Be positive. Understand that the biological feelings—like the nervous stomach—are natural. When you are outside your comfort zone, it makes you uneasy. Use those biological feelings to your advantage; they will make you sharp and animated.

2. Be rational. Think of the worst things that could happen. Then, be realistic, and see how they will not happen. No one is going to laugh at you, no one is going to throw tomatoes at you, you won’t forget everything. And if you do forget something, so what? The audience won’t know.

3. Be listener-oriented. Concentrate on the listener getting the information she/he came to hear. Presentations are not about the presenter; they are about the audience. The audience really doesn’t care about you, your hairstyle, your dress, your nose, your weight, or anything else about you. They care about the message you are giving.

4. Be prepared. Prepare early and practice. An audience can get downright hostile if you come unprepared. You owe it to them to be ready. Many students tell me they aren’t good at presentations after only preparing for one day. I tell them that is not the case. You can be good at presentations; you simply haven’t learned how to prepare.

So embrace your “inner nervous wreck” and let that fear work for you, not against you. Adopt these four tips and practice as often as you can.

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