When I first started public speaking, I fully expected the nerves. It’s not easy to be in front of thousands of people on a regular basis, but I thought that feeling would slowly disappear the more that I was speaking… I was wrong.
To this day, I still get so nervous on every single stage. I sweat. I shake. I bounce around. I need lots and lots of water. And I think I have gotten pretty good at hiding it over the years so not many people can tell, but I certainly feel it.
And it does not matter if its a crowd of 35 or a crowd of 3500. I still get nervous all the same.
One of the worst times was when I went to a school in California.
I was so excited to serve and speak and the traveling was fairly easy so that didn’t make me nervous. The school was easy to find and my Uber driver was amazing so that didn’t make me nervous. I met the administration team and they were all fantastic so that didn’t make me nervous. And then we made our way to the gym. It was a great facility and an even better set up, so that didn’t make me nervous. Then the teacher who was showing me around looked at me and said,
“All right well I got a class to head to, do you need anything else?”
I quickly responded “No. I’m fantastic thank you.”
Upon which she left the gym. And I looked around to find myself in a strange place about 850 miles from home with no one around knowing that in an hour the bleachers would be filled with 900 students all waiting to hear words come out of my mouth.
I went to my backpack and pulled out some earbuds to play some music, doing my best to hype myself up as well as stay calm. (Travis Scott is great for that by the way).
I wandered over to the storage closet (which I guess maybe I was not supposed to go into) and found a volleyball that I proceeded to dribble all around the gym and throw off of the walls.
Surely if anyone was watching the security footage at this moment I would look downright ridiculous.
And the final thing I tried to ease my nerves was grab a piece of bubble gum. Which I am convinced is one of the greatest stress relievers ever created.
I wandered and wandered and wandered and wandered all over that gym. In the bleachers, out of the bleachers. Opening the door, closing the door. Practicing with the mic, putting the mic back where it was.
And despite taking all of that time, when I checked my phone, I still had 45 minutes to wait until the first assembly even got started.
To be honest, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself.
But then my music switched to something more upbeat, some aggressive West Coast rap music. Maybe not what you would think I would listen to right now, but I knew every single word.
I started walking around the gym, rapping, probably looking more ridiculous on the security footage then I did earlier. And although it wasn’t even intentional, it was like all of a sudden the nerves I was feeling slowly faded down and out of mind.
The feeling of anxiety was slowly consumed by excitement.
Simon Sinek made this crazy observation one time that he analyzed in a keynote speech. He mentioned how he was watching the Olympics one year, though he wasn’t watching the actual competition, he was just watching the interview portion afterwards (classic Simon Sinek).
And he noticed that no matter what sport it was or how well the person placed, almost every reporter asked the same question at one point in the interview…
“Were you nervous?”
And what he noticed was that not a single response ever said they were nervous. No, instead every athlete either directly said or described that they were actually excited.
But take a step back and think about nerves and excitement. Think about how they make your body feel. For most people:
Nerves = sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach and increased heart rate.
And for most people:
Excitement = sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach and increased heart rate.
It’s almost like our bodies have the same physical reaction to completely different feelings. And this makes it that much easier to trick our brains.
Your mind is wired to react to your physical surroundings, that’s why I got nervous. I was all alone in a weird place and knew that soon I would have to stand in front of hundreds of people. But I was only strengthening my nervous energy by allowing my mind to believe that I was nervous.
But once I started singing and dancing and believing that I was actually excited and not anxious, I felt completely different.
Not because the situation changed.
Not because my physical reactions changed.
Not because I breathed deeply.
But because I tricked my mind to believe that my natural physical response was actually for something good.
I told my brain that my sweaty hands, sick stomach and racing heart was not a product of nerves, but a product of excitement. I began to force myself to be thankful for the opportunity I was given. I began to picture myself on much bigger stages than this gym.
I began to flip my nervous energy to excited energy.
And by the time the assembly actually started, I was so fired up to get to work there was no room left for any nerves at all.
See I don’t think the key to fighting your nerves is some grand meditation technique. I don’t think the classic idea of “picturing everybody in their underwear” really works. I don’t think we should try to fight the nervous energy at all. All of that is a whole lot of work, in a time and space where you may not have the mental energy to think that deeply.
Instead trick your mind into believing that your nerves are actually excitement.
Allow your body to feel all of your nervous reactions though instead of processing them as nervous energy, get fired up because of them.
I think it starts by being thankful for where you are, thinking about where you are going to go and most importantly, getting psyched up for the moment you are in right now.
I guess the long story short is that you are not alone in this, we all get nervous. I have to believe even some of the most profound professional public speakers still get nervous. I happen to believe that if you don’t get nervous, you don’t actually care.
But instead of asking yourself WHY AM I SO NERVOUS in those moments?
Try asking WHY AM I SO EXCITED?