90% of all people who need to appear before an audience complain about feeling nervous and the inability to overcome those emotions before going on stage.
If we mapped this anxiety onto a graph, we’d see that it grows steadily from the minute you find out about the forthcoming event to its highest point a second before you are due to go on stage. Lots of public speakers report that the anxiety then subsides as soon as you say your first words, and as you get closer to the end a feeling of calm does usually take over – as long as nothing unexpected happens. The problem of course, is that the unexpected often does happen: someone makes a sarcastic comment, or asks an embarrassing question, or maybe the mic malfunctions – at any such moment the tide of adrenalin comes rushing back in and suddenly you’re back in anxiety’s clutches. So what can you do when the unexpected strikes and an attack of the nerves starts to actually impede your performance? It’s really important to get this right, because if the first impression of you is of an anxious, nervous person, it could really get in the way of the message you’re trying to get across to the audience. You’ll never eliminate nerves altogether (and wouldn’t necessarily want to) – the key is to take the sting out of the ‘peak anxiety’ moments.
When I was very young, my mom left on a business trip for a whole week. My father, who I usually didn’t see much of during the week, now left work early to pick me up from kindergarten every day. We had some very memorable evenings together me and my dad – he cooked me dinner, we watched movies and hockey on TV, talked about all sorts of things long into the night after he had tucked me in and turned the lights off. The theme of these conversations was mostly what it means to be a man. I was very keen to find out if I possessed all those qualities that a man should – strength, kindness, character and this mysterious thing called ‘willpower’.
So my father said to me, “Do you want to find out if you have willpower?”
I replied “Of course I do.”
“OK, go to the kitchen and touch the fridge.”
Puzzled, I answered, “Why?”
“If I told you that, it would be far too easy, wouldn’t it?” he said.