What to do With Fear and Nerves in Communication

Mark Twain has a famous quote, “there are two types of speakers, those who are nervous and those who are liars.”  Nerves happen…they are human.

At Decker, we work with tens of thousands of executives every year, and an all too common statement and question come to the surface when coaching clients for a big meeting or message rollout. First, there is usually a statement, “I’m nervous.” Then it’s followed by “what can I do about it?”.

Before diving into “what can I do about it,” it’s always important to first understand why is this happening.

In the work we do, there is an obvious pattern with clients. We all are after the same thing with our communication, to be heard and influential. Oprah was once asked, “in all your years on your show, what did you learn about people?” Her answer speaks right to the heart of the human condition and the foundation of communication. She said:

“Everybody just wants to be heard…what everyone wants to know is, Do your eyes light up when I enter the room? Did you hear me, and did what I say mean anything to you? That’s all they’re looking for. That’s what everybody is looking for. And the reason I think my ability to communicate with people around the world has been so rewarded is because I actually understand that.” – Oprah Winfrey

When nerves kick up, we’re often fearful that what we say won’t matter, and our content and message won’t land with our audience. We are thinking about ourselves and how we will be perceived. This becomes a very self-reflexive, self-focused thought pattern. The result is self-induced pressure and nerves. We stay in our own head, disconnected from what’s outside of it. When in fact, we are programmed as humans to connect, to feel at one with those around us.

So what can you do about nerves in communication? Realize it’s not about you!

Make every message about “them” your listeners. If you approach a communication situation with a thought pattern, “I’m here to empower this audience, to help them,” the pressure fades. If you approach with the thought, “I really want them to do this thing I need them to do,” then there are a lot of nerves because it’s self-indulgent.

If the nerves persist when you begin speaking, take action to connect with the audience as soon as possible. Tell a relatable story, ask a question, make them be part of the conversation. When your brain recognizes you are connecting, it will begin to be at ease. It’s what we are programmed for.

A study by Quantified found that “confident speakers use 46.9 percent more inclusive language than nervous speakers, meaning they’re using collaborative words and personal pronouns to help the audience feel more involved in the message”. It’s all about your listeners.

When we approach listeners with “I’m here to help, and here’s what I found will help,” and you believe what you have to say will make a difference, now you are audience-centered. Your intention shifts from “how do I sound, am I saying the right thing,” to “I’m here to empower and help the audience.” Then, nerves start to fade because we feel a connection with our listeners quicker.  And connection is what it’s all about.

The Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2014

There is no such thing as private speaking, and Decker Communications’ 19th Annual Top Ten Best and Worst Communicators list proves it. These famous examples from business, politics, sports and pop culture have left indelible impressions this year – both for better and for worse. Top 10 Best Communicators Breaking … Continue reading

They Are Just Like Us (Nervous)

To kick off the #FearNoShame campaign this week in recognition of World Aids Day, Prince Harry shared a secret fear. He shared that his fear is public speaking. No matter how big the crowd or the audience. I sometimes buy US Weekly from the newsstand at the airport when I … Continue reading

How to Avoid Brain Freeze When Speaking

It’s happened to all of us at least once. You’re prepared, and you’re nervous. And all of a sudden, your mind goes blank. Brain Freeze. We recently got a question from a participant that we wanted to answer to a wider forum. Q:  I’m wondering if Decker has any official … Continue reading

Where It All Begins: Your Listeners

You can’t pass go, you can’t collect $200 (let alone $20,000 or $200,000 for your next initiative) if you haven’t gone through the first step: That’s right. Rephrase your agenda to meet theirs, instead. Since our goal is to influence others and to persuade them to take action, we can’t … Continue reading

The Life of the Panel

So many of our clients inquire about how to lead a panel, how to be a part of a panel, and/or how to be a moderator. We’re always looking for examples, and when you can – follow the example of a rock star. When Bill Clinton was late to a … Continue reading

What Do I Do with My Hands?

You’re standing at the front of a room of people. All eyes are on you. You know your content – phew. But there’s a nagging question that jumps to mind… (cue the video, below) We don’t advocate the politician gesture, and we’re not out to make everyone in business into a … Continue reading

Your Mission Needs Passion

As we fulfill our mission to transform business communications, we have the opportunity to work with many great businesses and leaders throughout the world. Eliminating corporate jargon and reviewing video feedback are all part of the transformation process that develops into sticky messages, undeniable pitches, SHARPs and audience engagement. On occasion, however, we have the … Continue reading

Actually, Timing IS Everything

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” Michael Altshuler It’s your turn to present, but long-winded coworker Jeff ate half of your time slot. Your 30 minutes has now been chopped to 15. What do you do (other than eat half of Jeff’s “reserved” … Continue reading

BP CEO: Communications Failure

UPDATE: June 17. CEO Tony Hayward is live giving Congressional testimony that will probably go down as equal to the Mark McGwire disaster. He has said, “I wasn’t involved in any of the decision making,” and “I don’t know” countless times. Congress, led by a hostile Henry Waxman, seemed incredulous. … Continue reading