11 Jul 2018

How To Handle Nerves On The Podium Or The Pitch

With the World Cup firmly upon us, most England supporters will be well aware that, as the tournament enters the knockout stages, the chances of games being won on penalties rises exponentially. Even with Germany out, given our track record, the English have good reason to be a little more nervous than most.

For many, stepping up to take a penalty is a lot like stepping up to a podium to address an audience: confidence is key for both. Rupert Wesson, Debrett’s Academy Director, shares a few of his key tips that work for speakers and penalty-takers alike.

Nervousness is not necessarily a negative

When faced with public speaking, nerves are not necessarily your enemy. Nerves are a natural response that, if you’re prepared, can be harnessed and used in a positive way. If you think of nerves as being on a spectrum, at one end of scale would sit dysfunctional nervousness (where it is almost impossible to function). By contrast, the other end of the scale is home to cockiness or ambivalence, which is just as dangerous. A healthy speaker operates somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. In the middle ground, your senses are heightened, and you are focused on the task in hand. So be fully aware of your nerves, but try to have them comfortably under wraps – or at least up on the spectrum from dysfunctional!

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail”

Just as the World Cup teams will have been planning for the knockout stages months in advance, you should start thinking about what to say well ahead of your appearance. Your mind works better in a relaxed state, so give yourself plenty of time to write your speech, and practise while there is still plenty of time. In the age of procrastination, it is common for individuals to put off thinking about things until it is too late, then hastily constructing a speech without a second thought on how they plan to deliver it. If pushed for time, we advise focusing on the start of your talk, when you will be the most nervous, but also when you can still win the audience over. Another tip is to think about saying less but saying it well. After all, when was the last time you heard anyone complain that a speech was too short?

Imagine things going well

Mental preparation is vital, and in the build-up to any knockout match the players will not only practise taking penalties, they will also spend time visualising the moment that they take the shot. They will only ever visualise it going well. If you only envisage your talk going well, then it probably will.

Fake it until you make it

For some, confidence may just be an act, but whilst you can trick others into thinking you are confident, you can also trick yourself. As you step forward, relax your body and look upwards, not downwards. Don’t set your face into a stiff grimace, but instead relax it and try to smile. Science now shows us how doing these things can change the chemistry of our body to help us stay calm.

Bask in the limelight

Whether you’re a football star on the world stage, or a keynote speaker at an industry event, everyone will be looking at you. Though this may sound daunting, you should enjoy the attention. Footballers need supporters just as speakers need an audience. Imagine you were at a speaking event and no one was interested.  That would be a disaster! As a speaker, it is your responsibility to acknowledge the audience rather than worry about yourself.

Finally, nervousness is all in the mind – and just remembering that will help you to control your nerves!

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