Up Front Communication

Helping people and businesses through the art of communication

The nerves keep on jangling

I took a couple of weeks away from blogging, speaking, computers, and just about everything else communication.  This was a refreshing, if unplanned break.  As my wee boy was in a major growth spurt, I needed time to make up for a lot of broken, unsettled sleep and dial down my daily activities a little.

Once he started giving me longer, more predictable stretches of sleep, I started taking up a few of my old activities.  One such activity was returning to Toastmasters (baby in tow) and delivering an advanced manual speech.  Outlines were outlined, drafts were drafted, and as the meeting approached my confidence in the quality of the speech and my ability to deliver it got shakier and shakier.

By the time I got to the meeting, I was completely convinced that I was going to bomb.  In my haste to get my baby loaded up and into the car, I even managed to forget the sample of the product that I was to pitch in my speech.  The speech was terrible, I told myself, the pitch unconvincing.  The other Toastmasters, accustomed to my generally skilled and enthusiastic deliveries, would be dismayed at my lackluster, amateurish performance. I hadn’t given a speech for two months; heck, I hadn’t even done any business interactions during that period except for some blogging and a couple coaching sessions with one of my most motivated clients.  Perhaps it was the baby-induced brain-fog that new parents everywhere experienced, but I actually worried that two months with no speeches was two months too long.  By the time I stood up to deliver my speech, I was convinced that I had no business speaking, much less helping other people improve their own speaking abilities.

Despite knowing that I was giving a speech in a warm, welcoming, completely non-threatening environment, I was having a case of the jitters that would have made a frightened newbie proud.  There really wasn’t any reason for it; I certainly could have crafted a better speech, had I more time, but what I had was certainly passable.  I knew my topic and what I wanted to say, and taking two months to adjust to a new baby certainly isn’t unreasonable.

A few of the Toastmaster meeting attendees expressed surprise when I said how nervous I was.  They knew that I speak often, in myriad settings, and enjoy it.  Why would someone with skill and experience get nervous in front of a familiar audience?  The only reason I can give is that the jitters never really go away.  Delivering a speech always puts you in a vulnerable position; you cannot force an audience to accept what you have to say, and the risk of rejection is always there.  Jitters are evidence that you perceive this risk and are responsive to it.

Jitters are a sign that you care.

This is a very good thing as audiences can tell when a presenter doesn’t care.  There is nothing more uninteresting than a speaker who is uninterested in what they have to say or the audience they are saying it to.  One of my favourite dancers said that the day you are no longer nervous when stepping on to the stage is the day you should stop dancing; if you aren’t nervous, then the dance no longer matters to you.  This goes for speaking, presenting, or anything that puts you up in front of a group of people.  Don’t fight the jitters.  Don’t pretend they aren’t there or that you are unaffected by them.  When you welcome them without letting them get the better of you, jitters can be your ally.  They give you a rush of adreneline, they increase your sensitivity to your surroundings, and they remind you that what you are doing – getting and using people’s time and attention – is important and should be respected.

In the end, my speech-cum-product-pitch was received extremely well by my fellow Toastmasters, and all was right in the universe.  I pulled out and used the control techniques I teach my clients – controlled breathing, open posture and expression, keeping to a mental outline, and so on.  I was still anxious, even for several minutes after it was over, but it was an exciting sort of nervousness.  It was the sort of nervousness that reminded me that I really, really like doing what I do.  It was a case of the jitters that I needed – and wanted – to feel.

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