(By Peter Economy)
“If you are feeling nervous and having a hard time getting your thoughts out, ask a question—the attention is all of a sudden on others, not you. This will give you time to take a deep breath, calm down, and collect your thoughts so you can articulate better what you are trying to say.“
It is hard to escape those moments in life when you are feeling incredibly nervous. Even if we plan ahead and rehearse, our body’s reaction to being nervous can flare up in very uncomfortable physiological ways. We get that rush of adrenaline and our stomach feels like it’s turning upside down. We begin to sweat, our cheeks flush, and some of us even develop a nervous tic—bouncing knee, twitchy foot, nail biting, blinking too rapidly, or speaking too quickly. This fight-or-flight reaction is perfectly normal, although unsettling and, at times, quite embarrassing.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to calm yourself down enough making it possible for you to get through any situation no matter how nervous you become?
Here are some great ways to hide your nervous behavior so you can tackle any nerve-racking event in your life.
Being nervous can disrupt normal breathing. Your breathing can become shallow and irregular. Is it any wonder we often feel faint when nervous? Take a few deep breaths and find your normal breathing pattern—that deep breath will help you relax too.
2. Don’t Admit It
One of the worst things you can do is admit you are nervous. This brings the focus fully on you and all those horribly natural things that are happening to your body when nervous.
3. Speak Slowly
When we are nervous, we often speak much too quickly. Be conscious of this and make a point of speaking slowly. Even if it sounds too slow to you, chances are those who are listening will think it’s just right. Much better to leave a meeting with your message delivered clearly instead of people scratching their heads saying, “What did he just say?”
4. Relax Your Body
Do a quick body check and purposefully try to relax and calm your body’s nervous reactions—relax your panicked, tightened muscles. Sit up straight, but in a relaxed way, not too rigid. Make sure your feet and hands are calm and relaxed—no bouncing, tapping, or wringing allowed. Relax the muscles in your face so you’re not frowning or looking worried.
5. Maintain Eye Contact
You are screaming, “I’m nervous” when you don’t maintain consistent eye contact nervously glancing around the room instead. Maintain eye contact without robotically staring—it’s okay to look away occasionally to gather your thoughts.
6. Ask a Question
If you are feeling nervous and having a hard time getting your thoughts out, ask a question—the attention is all of a sudden on others, not you. This will give you time to take a deep breath, calm down, and collect your thoughts so you can articulate better what you are trying to say.
7. Be Yourself
Remind yourself that you are fine just the way you are and take the focus off everything going perfectly. Go into situations knowing that you might make a mistake, and that’s OK—you’re human just like everyone else in the world. Don’t force a smile or tell a corny joke. Just let conversations happen naturally and smile or tell that joke when or if it’s appropriate.
8. Still Struggling?
Tried everything and you are still struggling to hide your nervousness? According to Alison Wood Brooks at Harvard Business School, you should turn your nervousness into excitement. Instead of being nervous and saying you’re nervous, be excited and say you’re excited. She observed a fake it until you make it effect on a study group who tried to hide their nervousness by saying that they were excited instead and, sure enough, this group outperformed the group that admitted they were nervous.
She believes that by channeling our nervous feelings into excitement, we tend to focus on positive outcomes instead of all the things that could potentially go wrong when we’re nervous—definitely worth a try!
Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the bestselling author of Managing For Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books with total sales in excess of 2 million copies. He has also served as Associate Editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers.
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