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.

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