How to control your nerves

It's normal to get nervous when we stand in front of an audience. It's a natural response when we get placed in a spotlight situation.

If you've ever given a speech, you may have felt those butterflies. But, if your stomach clenches at the thought of public speaking, you don't need to worry anymore! Cam Barber has a way to deal with public speaking anxiety "What's Your Message?".

Understanding anxiety leads to controlling anxiety

First things first, you need to understand stress from a physical, scientific level. Once you've got your head around what's causing your nerves, you'll see ways to alleviate them.

The intensity and physical symptoms of public speaking anxiety vary. They're influenced by things like:

  1. How important the situation is to you.
  2. How much sleep you've had.
  3. What you've eaten (for example, caffeine might add to your adrenaline rush).
  4. Your emotional state.
  5. Genetic differences.

Some of these variables are easier to control than others, but even the more challenging symptoms of anxiety can be dissolved once you understand them.

What's going on in that brain?

First, let's simplify the brain. Think of it as having two parts. The top part is where the conscious reasoning part takes place – the one that uses logic.

The bottom part is more instinctive and emotional. It reacts rather than thinks. And of course, the bottom part is the place that drives the stress response.

Controlling your nerves is all about understanding the brain.Controlling your nerves is all about understanding the brain.

This bottom part of the brain has control because, in a high stress situation, you need to be able to think quickly. This is your brain's way of preparing you for an important event – just in case you might be in danger. The physical symptoms of this stress response are built on two things:

  1. Adrenaline release – because you're not fighting or fleeing, the surplus adrenaline leads to symptoms like: increased heart rate, sweating, blushing, shaking, feeling sick, talking quickly etc. etc.
  2. Muscle contraction – your muscles contract in order to prepare you to fight or flee. The results of this can include chest tightness and shallow breathing.

Awareness sets you free!

Simply being aware that your stress symptoms are a result of a perfectly natural, chemical reaction is enough to help many people process their anxiety more easily. This is an important foundation.

Here are some other ways to dissolve stress that stem from this awareness.

Redirect your attention

Remember those two parts of the brain? The best way to control your nerves is to flip the management of the situation from the bottom, unconscious part of your brain to the top, conscious part.

You can make some simple, conscious, decisions to redirect your attention and escape the mental loop of anxiety that can take hold of us.

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Ground your feet.
  3. Pause to breathe and release your tension.
  4. Or do something more mental – focus your attention on a simple idea. For instance, "all I need to do is help them understand this subject," or "I can only do my best so there's no point worrying about anything now that I'm here."
Sometimes all you need to do is take a deep breath.Sometimes all you need to do is take a deep breath.

Breathing comfortably is the most universal method of controlling your stress response, but you should test things and choose whatever works best for you.

Reframe what's happening to you

Is your hand shaking? You now know why. You're not losing control of your body, it's nothing to worry about – it's simply due to the extra adrenaline that your brain has released.

It's natural, and while it might be a little distracting, it's not going to stop you getting your message across. You can just focus your attention on something more important, like breathing comfortably. Once you break the negative loop of anxiety, the shaking will start to dissolve.

Want to know more about delivering a great speech? Download a sample chapter of Cam Barber's book What's Your Message? or, for help writing your speech, try our SpeechOutline app for free. 

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