Having a degree of nervousness before a presentation is not only understandable but often useful. It can make you prepare properly, give you an edge and make you perform at your best. Even Laurence Olivier confessed he felt physically sick before going on stage, but he was able to face his nerves and perform with the panache that made him one of the most famous actors of his time.
But if nerves are too strong they can cause people to get into a cycle of procrastination, avoidance and sabotage. This is when nerves become fear. And fear blocks performance. As a result of fear, people may put off preparation until the last minute (or not at all). Or the fear may surface during the presentation either physiologically or psychologically: with dry mouth, sweating, blushing, forgetting words, being unable to focus, think clearly, or respond to questions.
When nerves are this debilitating the temptation to avoid presentations at all costs is high. When people avoid presentations they get no opportunities to practise and get more comfortable. This vicious circle of avoidance may stop you from progressing in your chosen career. One solution to this dilemma may be coaching.
Coaching can help you to identify the true cause of the nerves. Sometimes it’s something more obvious, like fear of forgetting your lines, but it may be something less immediately connected to the fear of public speaking. One client I worked with had got into such a negative ‘self-talk’ cycle that he was convinced he would fail before he started. This self-talk had stemmed from having to read out his essays in front of his class at Junior School. Coaching enabled him to understand how his self-talk was working against him and to find a way to break into it and beat his block.
Figuring out what’s getting in the way of your performance is rarely easy. It can be be quite challenging personally, but with the right support and encouragement from a coach it can be immensely satisfying to know how to overcome fears and be able to perform effectively.
It’s rare for someone to start doing presentations without any fear after coaching, but once they know that each presentation is another practice opportunity, and that this opportunity will make them stronger, they can start enjoying the frisson of excitement, without freezing or avoiding the situation. Once this happens, they can get better and better, until presenting becomes second nature.
Colin Jones-Evans is an executive and performance coach with Two Rivers Coaching. For more information go to www.tworiverscoaching.co.uk