I was trained as a classical trumpet player and spent 15 of my 26 years perfecting the craft. If there is one skill that I have mastered above the rest, it is performing. Many people consider a music performance degree a bit of a waste, if you aren’t performing professionally, but I’ve found many of the ancillary lessons I learned help me with the most necessary tasks in life. The best of these skills is being able to speak publicly and personally without getting nervous.
Although I do think I was born with a greater comfort in front of people, it didn’t always come easily. I do remember one of my early solo performances, in front of about 600 people, where I was trying to calm my out-of-control nerves, backstage. After a few performances, I began to realize that there were several things I could do to help with these nerves.
Nervousness stems from the fear of the unknown, so don’t let it be unknown! Are you scared of what is going to happen during your first presentation or during that job interview? Don’t be! This can all be conquered by knowing what it will be like through practice or simulation. Give your presentation in front of friends or have someone grill you on your job qualifications prior to the real deal.
Simulate the worst case scenario. This is my absolute favorite. It was taught to me by my dad, Ken, who is the trumpet professor at Valdosta State University. In high school, I competed in the Music Teacher National Association Solo Competition. For this, I had to memorize 3 pieces of music, totalling around 30 minutes, and play them for the judges at each round. During my months of preparation, my dad would have me play this memorized 30 minutes of music while he tried his best to distract me. This included yelling, singing, reading aloud, dropping large objects and tickling my ear with a feather! After that, 3 calm and silent judges staring at me while I played was as comfortable as relaxing on the couch. Recently I gave a short pitch and practised reciting it from memory right after jumping in and out of a cold pool. This left me breathless and in shock- perfect preparation for giving the pitch in an air conditioned room in front of friendly faces.
Become comfortable with eye contact. When I hear from people about how they get nervous talking to others, it always seems to revolve around eye contact. Maybe it has something with the idea that the ‘eyes are the gateway to the soul’. I don’t know. What I do know is that being comfortable with eye contact is critical for being comfortable with interacting with people. Do any Google search for how to build trust and you will find that direct eye contact builds trust very quickly. Conversely, no eye contact fosters distrust, which is never good, when you are trying to get the buy-in of others. Become more comfortable with this by having conversations with your friends and never breaking eye contact. Then have conversations with a larger group and make contact with everyone. This will prepare you for feeling comfortable with, and gaining trust from, the audience.
Take deep belly breaths. If our body does not have enough oxygen it is easy to hyperventilate, to try to get more oxygen, and this will spiral out of control. Shallow chest breaths are low quality and will make this happen quickly. What you want is deep belly breaths. Even though your belly is not actually filling up with air, high quality breaths start when you think about breathing from the stomach. Taking these deep breaths will slow you down and calm the nerves, making you feel more comfortable.
Tell a joke. You don’t have to tell a joke outright, but working one into conversation can make the audience laugh and make you feel more comfortable. This will help you to remember that we are all human beings and that the act of speaking and interacting with others should be completely natural.
Command the room. All eyes are on you. The show is yours. There is no reason you shouldn’t feel that way. Check out this classic TED Talk about how body language shapes how we feel. The gist of this video is that by striking certain poses prior to your presentation or interview, you can increase testosterone and lower cortisone levels, leaving you feeling confident and ready to show it to the world! Speak slowly and with confidence and find The Comfort in the Chaos. Take the recommendations of this video and stand or sit with confidence. The time is yours to shine. Make ‘em put on sunglasses!