When The Nerves Kick In: The Art of Presence

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Let me let you into a secret – we all suffer from nerves, even the most confident people, but the key to success is how you deal with them.

As 2019 is getting fully underway a lot of us are starting new jobs or accepting new opportunities, which on the one hand fill us with excitement but on the other, fill us with nerves and fear.

One of the most common situations I work with clients on is nerves when having to stand up and speak in front of people. Even the most senior people can suffer from crippling nerves when faced with presenting or speaking in meetings. Unfortunately, if these nerves aren’t managed it can be hugely damaging as it devalues their personal impact and presence. You could be the most experienced person in the room, with the most valid point of view, but if you don’t speak up, you may as well not be there.

Nerves can show up in lots of different ways. Someone who is clearly uncomfortable may go red, stutter, say ‘erm’ a lot, speak too fast or start waffling, sadly alluding to a lack of confidence or self-control. This can be disastrous if you’re trying to establish or maintain your credibility because if your audience see you flustered, they may doubt your ability to own your space, convey information or lead effectively.

When you think about leaders with gravitas and presence, what are their traits? Calm, energised, clear, open, relaxed and warm. Everything a nervous person is not.

So, if you really struggle with the butterflies, how can you manage that, get the attention you deserve and really own your presence?

While it may seem that some people just have ‘it’ and others are don’t, the fact is that we’re all born with natural presence. Presence occurs when a person is highly attuned to their surroundings and very much ‘in the room.’

A key for overcoming nerves is to remain in the present. Nerves often show up as voices inside our heads telling us that we’re not good enough, experienced enough or practiced enough to do what we’re about to do. Sometimes these voices can distort reality, becoming so insistent that it’s difficult to pay attention to our real-life surroundings. Thus, diminishing our presence.

As well as knowing your material that you are about to present inside out (preparation is key), you can quieten those butterflies by making a conscious effort to ‘switch on’ and bring as much energy and attention to the present moment as you can. What really helps is minimising distractions, looking to your surroundings and carefully observing the people around you – their expressions, their gestures, their points of view – choose to be fascinated by what they say rather than disengaged or fearful.

Notice the energy and warmth that’s created when you connect with others and how by paying attention to them, they return the favour fully.

By really owning your space and how you feel (deep breaths, slower speech) you take control and own your presence and your audience will respond to that.

I speak in a lot more detail on this in my book, Leading with Gravitas, which focuses on unlocking the six keys to impact and influence. We all have presence within us, and we all get nervous, it’s just how we deal with it that we can control.

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