More Body / Less Over-Thinking (Refocus Nerves)

How do people like Scott Wahle handle their nervousness? Scott has an extensive performance background. He was a Sports Anchor and Reporter at WBZ. He sang at the Boston Pops and has been in movies and live theater. If anyone knows about being “onstage” it is Scott. Here are Scott’s answers to my questions:

What are your two best ways to prepare yourself before speaking?

Number 1: Take ownership of the copy whether you wrote it or not.
If you look like you are reading it, you are telegraphing that you need to read it which means that maybe you don’t understand it without reading it. If you have internalized it, it is clear it is coming from your heart.

Number 2: Take in the room. Make eye contact with people. Imagine they are your friends and want you to do well. Meet some people in your audience before you talk. That makes them comfortable and you as well.

When you first started speaking, how did you handle your nervousness?

I did and still do a physical shake down. I do neck rolls, arm rotations, deep breathing (suck in a ton of air and let it out over 60 seconds). I roll my spine up and down imagining being pulled up like a string from the top of my head. Before I sing I get down and do 20 push ups to get my lungs breathing hard.

Tell me about one of the worst presentations you gave and how you got yourself out of feeling upset?

I was keynote speaker at the conclusion of a conference for physicians. Half way through the speech, jokes were not landing. Doctors looked bored. It wasn’t until I talked about how medical coverage was reported on newscasts that the doctors started to pay attention. I left thinking that I bombed. I asked the conference planner, “How do you think it went? I don’t feel so good about the talk.” He responded, “Are you kidding, you knocked it out of the park.” I learned a couple things. Don’t give up. You can pull the talk off even in the last minutes which from my perspective is what happened.

I realized it is better to look at the talk as pieces of a puzzle. Some pieces had a positive effect on people. Some didn’t. But I should not give up when one piece does not interest them.

What do you believe presenters need to learn?

Learn how to use humor…not a joke necessarily, just a turn of a phrase or a look. Your ability to manufacture a lighter moment will help the effectiveness of your delivery and your overall confidence. Once people laugh, they anticipate the next lighter moment. They are thinking I just laughed and maybe the presenter will make me laugh again. They will listen more closely.

Tell a story before you give the facts. For example, don’t start with “Gross national product numbers came out and it’s down 2%.” Instead start with, “Jenny and Paul used to be able to buy steak once a week, now it’s once a month.” Lead with the personal…then the data.

What final advice would you give someone who is nervous?

Stop over-thinking it. Make sure the copy is in conversational language.

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