As I am writing this blog today, I am preparing to open a one-person show. I am sitting in my living room and my stomach is churning, my breathing is shallower than usual, and I can feel my heart pounding. I am “nervous.”
I have coached many executives as they prepare to speak publicly and inevitably we talk about feeling nervous. Most people ask me, “how do I stop being nervous?” I’m going to keep it real: you don’t.
I have been a professional actor for nearly two decades. I have facilitated classes with large groups of people. I have given presentations to large and small groups. You would think nerves would be a thing of the past. I still get nervous. But, all this experience has let me in on a secret: once I step in front of a group to speak, the nerves disappear— they transform into energy that I can use.
Adrenaline is Your Friend
What is this nervousness then? It’s an autonomic response that is completely appropriate to the situation. It is NORMAL to be nervous. Human nature does not encourage us to stand in front of a room of people and be vulnerable. (And to connect, you need to be vulnerable—that’s a whole other blog post.)
Your body will naturally rebel and flood your system with cortisol and adrenaline. It’s a survival mechanism. You NEED that adrenaline. It is your friend. It allows you to take in more information, connect with the audience, and it will help you come up with solutions if you get stuck or lost.
Call it Excitement
I’m not saying it has to FEEL good. It doesn’t. But, for me, I have found that if I re-label the feeling, it ceases to CONTROL me. I call it excitement. I say I’m preparing for battle. I remember that my nerves give me NERVE. In other words, I allow myself to experience the sensation and not judge it. Nerves have become my old friend—I welcome them.
So if you see me getting ready to present or perform, I have the same feeling anyone has before they speak or present. But, don’t worry, I am in control. I have wrestled with my nerves, claimed them, and thanked them. And when I set foot on stage, I will be fine.
P.S. BREATHING HELPS. A LOT.