Fear, whether it’s just a little bit of nerves or full-on panic, is one of the challenges that almost every presenter deals with to some degree or another. Surprisingly many nervous speakers don’t realize that almost everyone–including the presenters they admire–experiences the same thing.
So I always try to convince the people I’m working with that fear of public speaking is totally normal and can actually help motivate you to do the work necessary to create a great presentation. Personally, I know that it would be really hard to duplicate the burst of energy and enthusiasm that my little bit of nerves contribute when it’s time to deliver a talk.
Now there’s some scientific evidence to back up what I’ve been telling people for years. “Actually, a little anxiety may be just what you need to focus your efforts and perform at your peak,” according to The Wall Street Journal:
Somewhere between checked out and freaked out lies an anxiety sweet spot, some researchers say, in which a person is motivated to succeed yet not so anxious that performance takes a dive. This moderate amount of anxiety keeps people on their toes, enables them to juggle multiple tasks and puts them on high alert for potential problems.
Anxiety is especially self-defeating when people focus on the fear itself, rather than the task at hand. The best way to stay in the “sweet spot,” Dr. Moser says, is to channel the anxiety into productive activity—like studying and acing the test. “I tell a lot of my patients that Nike really has a great slogan—Just Do It,” he says.
Don’t focus on the fear and let it defeat you, but channel it to help you accomplish your goals. And try to remember that almost everyone shares your anxiety to one degree or another. Being nervous in front of an audience is part of the human experience. I’m half convinced that anyone who isn’t is either a sociopath or space alien.