Getting the butterflies to fly in formation. Show me a presenter who isn’t just a little anxious when she or he speaks, and I will show you an ineffective speaker. Cicero, Rome’s brilliant orator, admitted, “I turn pale at the outset of every speech and quake in every limb and in my soul.” Winston Churchill got nervous before every speech, and even veteran actress Katharine Hepburn was reported to become “a bundle of nerves” before a live performance.
A little anxiety is a good thing when presenting, but a lot of anxiety isn’t. Even over time the fear of speaking publicly doesn’t go away, but great presenters know, as Art Linkletter once said, that you can learn to make the butterflies fly in formation.
I am nervous before every talk and seminar I give. In almost every case, my anxiety is caused by a fear of how I will be judged. “Will they think I am smart?” “Will they give me a good evaluation?” “Will they feel I was worth their investment?”
Communications researcher Michael Motley found that most presenters operate under one of two general attitudes – a communications or performance attitude. Speakers with high anxiety almost always have a performance orientation. They view their audience as critics who are judging how they make their presentation. As a result, these presenters become over-focused on their wording and delivery. Presenters with a communications orientation are less concerned with their performance. Instead, they focus on connecting with and communicating to their audiences.
When I shift my focus from my performance to my audience’s needs, magic happens. Not only does my anxiety cease, I connect more with the group.