I’m not a super-confident person, so more nerves is something I can probably do without… but today was one of the rare moments when I actually wish I’d been more nervous.
I’m currently organising and participating in a ‘trainer skills’ development program. Basically a four-day training course on how to be a better trainer/presenter. This is something that I really value and am interested in, so am excited to have opportunity to reflect and practice my skills. I’ve done something similar last year, but this time I’m doing it in a specific work-based context. Today we had to give a mock training session to the other participants in the group. To be honest, I didn’t put quite as much effort into preparing this session as was probably required, but nevertheless I felt calm and unfazed about the whole thing (before-hand and during the session). You might think that was a good thing, that it showed I was confident and prepared, but it turned out that I sucked. Well, it wasn’t that bad… I can still happily face my colleagues without embarrassment… but it definitely should have / could have been better.
So, why do I wish I’d been more nervous? ‘Cause I’ve figured out that feeling nervous means that I actually care. When I delivered sessions as part of a previous course last year, and more recently when I gave a presentation on TED to 200+ staff, I definitely recall feeling nervous. Particularly I recall the feeling of my heart beating so strongly that I could feel it in my chest, throat, head… And the butterflies in the stomach… And the buzzing feeling afterwards… Where you feel like you’ve just overcome a hurdle and then can’t wait to rush back and do it all again. Today I had none of that. The nerves (and the post-presentation buzz) seem to occur when I care. When I care about the content. And when I want my audience to care about the content too. And caring means that I prepare more and that I bring genuine energy because I want my audience to be as excited by the topic as I am. It’s much easier to be exciting when you’re excited right?
Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker has a good part on managing fear and the similarities between fear and excitement…
Ian Tyson, a stand-up comedian and motivational speaker, offered this gem of advice: “The body’s reaction to fear and excitement is the same…so it becomes a mental decision: am I afraid or am I excited?” If the body can’t tell the difference, it’s up to you to use your instincts to help rather than hurt you.
I love this quote. And I’m becoming more and more conscious of the fact that when I experience nerves before presenting, they’re because I’m genuinely excited rather than scared. I’m a big believer in listening to your body and the cues it gives you to help you understand your emotional reaction to certain experiences, so today I’ve learned some valuable lessons.
So, what am I going to do with this new self-knowledge? Perhaps I should only present and train on content that I care deeply about? Certainly finding more opportunities to do this is something that I will actively seek out. But, that’s not always going to be possible. It’s likely that my job (both current and possibly my future roles) will mean that sometimes I need to deliver content on topics that you won’t find me ranting and raving to friends/colleagues over a bottle of wine about! So, I’ve decided that before I deliver any content, before I stand up in front of my audience and open my mouth, I first need to care. And that may mean putting myself in the shoes of my audience and figuring out why they care about what I’m going to deliver… how the information or skills that they are hoping/expecting to receive may make their lives/jobs better or easier or more fun. Or even if I’m not totally excited by the overall content/topic perhaps I could find a small part that interests me, makes me think or makes me smile, and then start by really caring about that.
So, despite my less than average performance today, I’ve definitely learned a valuable lesson, and that’s something to be grateful for.