Overcome Speaking Nerves & Anxiety: How to Develop Confidence on Stage with Carol Cox: Podcast Ep. 370

Overcome Speaking Nerves & Anxiety: How to Develop Confidence on Stage with Carol Cox: Podcast Ep. 370

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I’ve been there: Standing in front of an audience or being on live TV with my heart pounding, butterflies in my stomach, and my body a bundle of nerves.

I’ve also had speaking engagements and TV appearances where I’ve felt in the flow and completely comfortable and confident.

What made the difference? That’s what I’m going to share with you in this episode.

It’s normal to feel nervous before you speak. What you want to do is learn how to channel those nerves and reduce outsized anxiety.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • 3 reasons you get nervous before a speaking engagement
  • Why your body reacts the way it does
  • A story of my worst speaking experience ever and what I learned from it
  • What do in advance of your speaking engagement to lessen anxiety
  • What to do right before you go on stage to channel your normal nerves

This episode is part of our new podcast series called “Level Up Your Speaking.”

Want to develop your speaking skills, thought leadership, and signature talk?

Check out our online coaching program the Thought Leader Academy and our upcoming 3-day in-person speaking intensive.

About Us: The Speaking Your Brand podcast is hosted by Carol Cox. At Speaking Your Brand, we help women entrepreneurs and professionals clarify their brand message and story, create their signature talks, and develop their thought leadership platforms. Our mission is to get more women in positions of influence and power because it’s through women’s stories, voices, and visibility that we challenge the status quo and change existing systems. Check out our coaching programs at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com

Links:

Show notes at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/370/ 

Discover your Speaker Archetype by taking our free quiz at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/quiz/

Enroll in our Thought Leader Academy: https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/academy/ 

Attend our in-person Client Retreat Speaking Intensive in February in Orlando: https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/retreat/ 

Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolcox

Related Podcast Episodes:

370-SYB-Solo-Nerves.mp3: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

370-SYB-Solo-Nerves.mp3: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Carol Cox:
Learn specific strategies you can use to overcome nerves and anxiety. And I share some of my hardest speaking experiences on this episode of the Speaking Your Brand podcast. More and more women are making an impact by starting businesses, running for office and speaking up for what matters. With my background as a TV political analyst, entrepreneur and speaker, I interview and coach purpose driven women to shape their brands, grow their companies, and become recognized as influencers in their field. This is speaking your brand, your place to learn how to persuasively communicate your message to your audience. Oh, I’ve been there, standing in front of an audience or being on live TV with my heart pounding, butterflies in my stomach and my body a bundle of nerves. I’ve also had speaking engagements and TV appearances where I felt in the flow and completely comfortable and confident. What made the difference? That’s what I’m going to share with you in this episode of the Speaking Your Brand podcast. Hi everyone. I’m Carol Cox, your host. I hope you’ve been enjoying the series we’ve been doing called Level Up Your Speaking to get you prepared for 2024. Now it’s completely normal to feel nervous before you speak. Most speakers do, whether they’ve been speaking for a short period of time or they’ve been speaking for years. What you want to do is learn how to channel those nerves and reduce any outsized anxiety that you may have that prevents you from enjoying the speaking engagement.

Carol Cox:
So in this episode, I’m going to share with you three reasons you get nervous before a speaking engagement. Why your body reacts the way it does. What to do well in advance of your speaking engagement to lessen anxiety. What to do right before you go on stage to channel your normal nerves. I’m also going to share a story of the worst speaking experience I’ve ever had and what I learned from it. And you may be thinking, oh Carol, how bad can it be? No, it’s pretty bad. And I’m going to share with that with you to let you know that it happens to all of us. Now, if you’re new to speaking your brand, welcome. We work with women entrepreneurs, executives and leaders to develop their thought leadership, create their signature talk, and learn the business of speaking. We do that online through our Thought Leader Academy and our workshops. We also have an in-person three day client retreat Speaking Intensive coming up in February in Orlando, Florida. You can get all the details, including the agenda and pricing, and submit your application as speaking your brand.com/retreat. Again, that’s speaking your brand.com/retreat. Now let’s get on with the show. Why do we get so nervous when we’re standing in front of an audience? Or we’re going on live TV, or even maybe just doing a live podcast, interview or webinar? Well, there is actually a physiological reason that our body reacts the way it does. You know, the pounding heart, the butterflies in the stomach, kind of getting sweaty palms.

Carol Cox:
It’s because we feel really vulnerable. And so our body is reacting in order to keep us safe or to get us into a safe place. Now imagine thousands of years ago if we were standing alone by ourselves, which is basically what we’re doing as a speaker in front of an audience, on a stage. We’re all by ourselves. And being all by ourselves means we’re vulnerable because a tiger or some other type of animal or predator could come along and harm us. Now, that may seem silly, because that’s not what’s going to happen as you’re standing on the stage. But our primitive brains don’t know that because our brains have not caught up to our modern civilization. So what our body thinks is, oh, we have to get prepared to flee. We’re by ourselves. We’re feeling vulnerable. So that means we have to take blood from the brain, put it into the legs. That’s why you kind of feel like, you know, maybe you’re getting a little bit wobbly feeling. Because the brain is. Because the blood is leaving your brain going to your limbs. You may also get the butterflies or the queasiness in your stomach because your body is shutting down digestion, because it doesn’t think it’s that important to digest anything when it needs to run away. And that’s also why your heart starts racing, because you’re getting more adrenaline and cortisol in your bloodstream to help you to flee.

Carol Cox:
Now, again, this may seem silly, and we may kind of get mad at our bodies like, why are you doing this? I just want to have a pleasant speaking engagement. I don’t want to feel all these bodily sensations. But once I understood that this is part of our normal physiology, it helped me then to understand that when I’m experiencing number one is normal. But number two, that there are things that I can do well in advance of a speaking engagement as well as right before I go on stage. And while I’m on stage to help me work with my physiology, work with my body instead of trying to fight against it. So now let me go through three different reasons. You get nervous. So kind of three different categories of things that may be going on. I’m going to share some examples and some things of. What you can do. The first reason you may feel nervous is that you’re unprepared. You put your presentation together at the last minute. You’re not sure if the content is the best or you have a little bit of self-doubt like, is this really the best content for this audience? Are they going to get value out of it? Are they going to enjoy it? Maybe you created slides to help you remember your presentation, but you’re worried something’s going to happen with the tech, and the slides aren’t going to be available now. I have an episode coming up two episodes from now all about how to handle tech glitches specifically.

Carol Cox:
So stay tuned for that one. So this first kind of bucket of why you get nervous is just that feeling unprepared. And so what can you do? Well clearly prepare in advance. This is why having a signature talk can be so important. Because now you know your content, you know your material, you’ve been giving it in different places and different ways, and you can pull from that content for your next presentation. Clearly, you want to practice ahead of time, so practice with your slides. Also practice without your slides. So know what to do if the slides the AV doesn’t work. The other thing about feeling unprepared is that you may not know what the room is going to look like. Maybe you’re not sure about how the AV is going to work. Should you bring your laptop? Should you bring a copy of your slides? Are they going to run it from their own laptop? Maybe you’re not sure how many people are going to be in the audience, so ask the event organizer ahead of time for that information. Having that information is going to help put kind of those fears of the unknown to rest, because now you’re going to have that. So your brain’s not going to be constantly wondering, well, what is the room going to look like? Whose laptop am I using? How many people am I going to be looking at in the audience? Instead, get the answers to those questions so that you’re feeling more prepared.

Carol Cox:
The second category of reasons that you get nervous is that it could be a new thing you’ve never done before. When I went on TV news for the very first time, this was in 2005. So a very long time ago now. But I had never been in a new studio before, certainly had never been sitting at a table in the studio with myself, a congressman across the table from me, two male political reporters who wrote for the local newspaper, and then the woman who was the anchor and the political reporter for that news station. That was the first time I had ever been on the news, and I was very intimidated because I was with all these people who were very experienced. I was young, I was about 30 years old. I had just been elected chairperson of the local Democratic Party, which was why they brought me on. And I remember sitting down at that table getting ready for it to go live, and my heart was racing so fast. I literally thought it was going to jump out of my chest. You know how you see those old cartoons where, like, the hardest coming out of the chest? That’s what it felt like. Somehow I made it through. It was about a 20, 25 minute program, so it was a long segment. It wasn’t just a three minute piece.

Carol Cox:
Somehow I made it through and from there on I did it more frequently. And now I would still get nervous when it was infrequent. So if, say, if it had been six months or nine months or even, say, a year between election cycles, and I hadn’t been back then the first time in that a new election cycle, I would get a little nervous because I was just out of practice. Then in 2016, I was contracted by the NBC affiliate station in Orlando to be their exclusive Democratic political analyst. So because I was getting paid, I was doing it a lot every time they needed me to come comment on the campaign. And as you know, 2016 was a very busy election cycle. I was there, so I got to the point where I would drive to the this TV station, walk in, get passed through to the studio, sit down, do my piece and then leave. And I didn’t get nervous anymore because I was putting in more and more reps. It was becoming more frequent. So if you’ve never done something before, just know right off the bat you’re going to be nervous going into it. And that’s okay. To get less nervous, like being a public speaker is to put in the reps, do it more often, make the situation more familiar to your mind and to your body. Speak at local groups, present virtually online in a webinars, do podcast interviews. All of that is going to help you feel more comfortable with your material.

Carol Cox:
Now, the third bucket of reasons that you get nervous is you might put too much pressure on yourself. And this is what happened to me. And I really horrible speaking experience that I mentioned in the intro. Back in October of 2016, I was invited to give a talk at a Ted X women event in Orlando, and because I was doing so much of the political analysis that year, and because 2016 was such an important election year, here we were a month away from the election. I knew I wanted to talk. About politics and specifically why, as a society, we were so uncomfortable with women in power and what that meant about us. I did a whole episode about this on the podcast called is episode number 92 called Deconstructing My Ted Talk Why We’re Uncomfortable with Women in Power, and I’ll link to that in the show notes. I wrote the talk. It was about eight minutes long. It was it was created. It was really well done, I practiced it, I would drive around whenever I was driving around in the car. I would say it out loud to myself. I knew the talk from beginning to end, so that wasn’t the issue. I was prepared and I had done speaking before, so it wasn’t necessarily new, even though the Ted talk itself was new. I show up at the venue where they’re having the Tedxwomen event, and it was only about 50 women in attendance, so it was a small event.

Carol Cox:
Out of the 50 women I knew, most of them. These are other women in the Orlando community. I was very active in the community, so I knew a lot of them. I remember getting miked up in a separate room, so they were putting the mic pack on and I started feeling really clammy. Now, of course, it was normal for me to kind of have that little bit of heart racing and, you know, maybe that little bit of nervous energy, the butterflies in the stomach. But this felt different. I had never experienced this before, even when I went on TV. So I get like that clammy hands, that clammy skin. And I was thinking to myself, oh, this is not, this is not good. Like, I knew that these were warning signs, so I was drinking some water and kind of doing the deep breathing to to calm myself. So then we get ready for this first set of speakers to do our talks. So I miked up. I’m at the front of the room, it’s my turn to go on. And so I start doing my talk. And again, it’s only about eight minutes long. And as I’m presenting and again, I know my material backwards and forwards, but then I, because my body was had been getting so clammy, I kind of lost all moisture, which means I lost all saliva in my mouth.

Carol Cox:
And I got to the point where I had such bad cotton mouth that I was hard for me to even continue speaking. I had to stop about halfway through. Go get my drink of water, my bottle of water that I had on the side, and then come back and finish. I was devastated. This was not how I wanted this talk to go. I knew, like I said, almost all the women in the room and I wanted to do a great job. But my body shut down. It was because of the pressure I had put on myself to be perfect. I, of course, was the speaking coach, so I expected myself to deliver this perfect talk. And even though I was in my mind telling myself, like, Carol, it’s okay, it doesn’t matter. My body just wasn’t cooperating. And so if you’ve ever felt like you have to be perfect, or that you need to please the audience, or that you don’t belong there, that you have imposter syndrome, then putting too much pressure on yourself can also make you really, really nervous. Now what to do about it? Now this one is the hardest because it really is all about the mind. Not only the conscious mind, but also the subconscious. Now women who were there will tell me, Carol, it wasn’t that bad, right? And of course they’re being kind. I really still think it was. It was definitely not a great speaking experience for me. I share this with you to let you know.

Carol Cox:
Like I said in the intro, it happens to so many of us and it is okay if it has happened to you in the past or if it happens to you in the future, because after all, we’re all only human. In fact, this happened to a woman on the TEDx women stage. I was at the TEDx women conference just a few months ago in October, so there were 35 plus speakers over three days. Of course, all the speakers are very well prepared to stand on that big stage and get filmed. There was one speaker who started her talk. She was fantastic, funny and engaging. She was talking about menopause. She’s a physician. Then about two thirds of the way into her talk, she all of a sudden stops. She walks to the side of the stage, you know, off the red dot, walks to the side of the stage, looks at her notes, gets a drink of water, and then walks back and continues. I don’t know if she needed a drink. I don’t know if she needed to look at her notes or a combination of both, but she was totally okay doing that. And of course, as the audience, we were cheering her on as she was doing that because she knew that in the video that was going to end up being posted on YouTube, all of that would have gotten cut out. So that made me feel better, even though it was seven years later, after my TEDx experience, that even the most well-prepared speakers on the big TEDx stages can also sometimes just need a drink of water.

Carol Cox:
Now, here are some things that you can do in advance of your speaking engagement to lessen anxiety. Number one is to practice your presentation to yourself, but also give the presentation somewhere, especially if you had a speaking engagement you have coming up is a big deal. So you’re delivering a keynote at an industry conference, or it’s a really important event that you want to make sure you do a great job at. Give the presentation to a small group somewhere first, or present it online, virtually present it to your clients, or do a webinar. The next thing you can do is start doing mental prep. Visualize yourself in the room on the stage delivering your talk. Actually, close your eyes. See yourself there delivering your talk. Imagine the entire room, the audience, what it looks like. This is what athletes do in advance of their competitions, is that you want to take yourself through all of that. This is why asking the event organizer ahead of time what room you’re going to be in, what the venue is, what the color of the backdrop is, how many people are going to be in the audience is going to help you to make that visualization as accurate as possible. The next thing to do well in advance of your speaking engagement is take an improv class.

Carol Cox:
We’ve talked about this before on the podcast and the episode we have coming up in a little bit. We’re also going to talk about how much you’re going to learn from taking an improv class and not learn about how to be funny, but learn how to get out of your head and into your body. And that’s really what you want to do, to get through a lot of the anxiety and nerves that come up when you’re speaking. The last thing that you can do in advance of your speaking engagement is to make sure that you’re physically in good shape, exercise regularly. Make sure that you’re feeling good, meditate. Have a breathing or calming practice for yourself so that your body is used to doing these things well before you get on the stage. Now here are some things you can do before you go on stage to channel any normal nerves that you have. What I like to do is if I’m at a conference or I’m I’m at a local group, is that I will go and talk to people in the audience. So as they’re coming into the room or if I’m at a local event before this, the speaking engagement happens. So I’ll say hello, introduce myself, find out a little bit about them, shake hands with the person. The act of shaking hands or giving a hug releases a chemical called oxytocin, which is the feel good chemical. It’s also a chemical that connects you is what connects a mother to her child.

Carol Cox:
So the act of shaking hands or hugging releases oxytocin. So that can also help to calm the cortisol and adrenaline that may be increasing in your body. What? Walk around, so walk around to move that energy that’s going on in your body, that adrenaline. Go to the bathroom, do some jumping jacks to move the energy, do some power poses, hands on the hips or hands overhead. Also, make sure that you’re breathing normally. Stay hydrated. So don’t don’t drink too much water, but you want to make sure that you’re drinking enough water. Also, don’t have any coffee if you don’t normally drink coffee. If you do normally drink coffee and your body is used to that, then have your normal amount. So make sure you’re doing whatever your regular routine is so that your body is in tip top shape. And then once you stand on that stage in front of the audience, just tell yourself you just need to get through the first few minutes. Then after that, you’re going to start getting into your flow. So if those first few minutes are particularly hard for you, then don’t launch right into a story. If you feel like that’s just going to make you too nervous. Instead, ask the audience some questions to warm up. It takes the spotlight off of you, and then you can have that interaction with the audience, which I find oftentimes will lessen my nerves.

Carol Cox:
Hopefully these tips and these stories of my own speaking experiences that will help you to lessen any anxiety and nerves that you have come up. Our mission here is speaking. Your brand is to encourage more women like you to step into thought leadership and to become recognized speakers, and that’s what I want you to feel confident doing. If you would like to join us at our in-person Speaking Intensive, that is three days that work together. You get to practice on our stage, develop that confidence and stage presence. We do improv. You get practice time and hands on coaching from us. There’s only 12 women max who can attend, so it really is an intimate, hands on experience. And then on day three, you get professional filming of your speaking segments, so you have that for your speaker reel. Going forward, you can get all the details and you can apply at speaking your brand comm slash retreat. Again, that’s speaking your brand.com/retreat. And we are closing registrations at the end of January. On the next episode, our lead speaking coach, Diane Diaz, is going to share with you what to include in your speaker video reel and the speaker page on your website. And then the episode after that, we talk about how to handle tech glitches, Q and A’s at conference sessions and panels. So make sure to hit subscribe or follow in your podcast app if you haven’t already, so that you don’t miss any of those upcoming episodes. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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