It’s the middle of the night. I hear a pattering on my door and I bolt upright.
“Yeah?” I shout, wondering if I’d missed all three of the alarms I’d set for myself. No answer.
I check my clock. 4:24am. Phew! I still had six more minutes to sleep. I grumble to myself, silently cursing whoever it was who decided to thoughtfully cut short my final minutes of sleep. Oh well. I was up. Lets do this.
I do some YouTube yoga, eat a grapefruit, and pull myself into my dad’s freezing cold Toyota Corolla. The oil light goes on. Fantastic.
I run upstairs. “Mom, can I borrow your car?!“
Fast forward to 6:40am.
I’m sitting in a fancy studio, speaking into a large microphone. This is my first live radio interview and it’s being broadcast to the entire province of Quebec.
I knew I’d be nervous. I could easily imagine the thousands of strangers, grumbling to themselves in their cars about having to work on a national holiday, having to listen to me talk about being a “professional multipotentialite” and following your dreams. Or even just imagining my family and friends listening, hanging on every word. Could I have phrased that better? I would think after each line. Ugh.
I knew these thoughts could easily be flying through my head during the interview, pulling me out of the moment, and making me unable to think on my toes. And so I decided to do what I could to curb the nerves in advance. In fact, I was very deliberate about shoring up my confidence ahead of time and walking in with the right mindset.
Here are some techniques that can help you remain calm and focused during a potentially nerve-wracking situation.
1. Accept the nervousness and communicate your passion anyway
The worst thing you can do is deny the fact that you’re nervous. Just accept it, allow it, and decide that despite your nerves, you’re going to try to connect with your passion and communicate it. Sometimes I imagine myself taking my nervous energy and putting it in a box somewhere. It’s there, we’re not denying it, but we’re going to work around it.
What’s important isn’t reducing your “um” count or using the perfect sentence structure. What’s important is connecting with your own passion for your topic, and communicating that enthusiasm. When you express your passion, everything else takes care of itself.
The problem is that when you’re feeling insecure, you instinctively want to protect yourself by shutting down, hiding, staying silent. Sometimes you even “lose” who you are. However, the key to connecting with other human beings and breaking through those negative feelings, is actually doing the opposite of what feels safe– allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
Open up, but not in anticipation of a reaction. You are a self-assured person who believes in their choices. You don’t need validation. You’re so excited about what you’re doing in the world, that you want to share it.
2. Adopt the body language of a confident person
The body follows the mind and the mind follows the body. Stand up straight, take up space, and SMILE. It’s impossible to feel bad when you adopt the physiology of a proud, happy person. This signals to your brain to bring on the positive feelings.
3. Take “mini-risks” long before the nerve-racking event begins
I’m not sure that driving down freezing cold Montreal streets at 5am in the dark qualifies as a “mini-risk,” but why not.
If you’ve got some big nerve-wracking event coming up, do what you can to be assertive and take action in small ways beforehand. This might mean asking your barista how their day is going, or even just smiling at someone on the street. When faced with the choice between taking action or remaining passive, choose action every time.
Confident people have presence. They affect the things around them. They move. They speak. They assert themselves.
The more you take on these mindsets, the more confident you will feel inside.
I’m not an experienced driver. Taking the car out that early to go across town was an adventure. But I knew that I could do it, and I knew I had to. I needed the confidence boost I’d get by proving to myself that I could do it. And so I did. I parked in the dark, icy lot, locked the car, and strutted in like a professional.
4. Stack your wins
See each mini-risk you take as a win, regardless of how other people react. Most importantly, stack those wins.
Congratulate yourself each time you take assertive action in small ways. See each small action as an accomplishment in and of itself, then stack each win on top of the next, building up your confidence.
5. Don’t try to escape the scary moment. Feel it and embrace it
You know the moment the lights come up on stage or you’re looking out over the podium and all eyes are on you? That moment is profoundly uncomfortable for most of us.
But here’s the thing… It doesn’t have to be.
Instead of trying to “get through it,” or escape the uncomfortable feeling, why not embrace it? Don’t view the moment as something that’s happening to you, view it as a willing step you’re galliantly taking into the unknown. Jump in there, take the spotlight, it’s yours.
You have this awesome opportunity to make the moment whatever you want it to be and set the mood for everyone who’s listening to you. Embrace it and have fun with it. (It becomes surprisingly fun when you notice other people following you into your state. And they do.)
6. Trust yourself
The night before my interview, I was lying in bed and I thought, I could so easily let my nerves get the best of me. That would be understandable, right? Everyone would get it– my first interview on live radio and all…
Well, you know what?
I can absolutely rock this. I have it in me. Allowing myself to fall back on nerves as an excuse to perform poorly? I’m above that.
If public speaking is my big goal for 2012, then I’d better start viewing myself as a “speaker.” I must start thinking big, and know that I have stepped into that role.
Even if you’re a total beginner, you must visualize yourself rocking it. You must trust that your character will carry you through, that you have it in you. Only by suspending your disbelief and embodying the future will that future ever become reality. You see it in your mind first, then it becomes possible, then you nail it.
After the interview was over, I smiled a giant smile, shook hands with the studio director, and proudly marched through the empty CBC hallway. I popped into the women’s bathroom and jumped up and down, congratulating myself on the win.
Instead of calling my family (who’d been listening) to express my excitement and receive congratulations, I let this win be mine alone, at least for now.
Then I drove home through the dark, icy Montreal streets, blasting whatever classic rock was coming out of the FM dial, enjoying my moment.
Listen to the interview
Here’s a link to the interview, if you’d like to take a listen. It turned out well, but that’s not really the point.
A big thanks to Silvet, the entire crew of CBC Daybreak, and to the lovely host, Loreen Pindera.
How do you prepare for a nerve-wracking event?