As originally published on Quora.com
In the immortal words of Jerry Lee Lewis “whole lotta shakin goin on!”.
The ‘shakes’ are merely a physical manifestation of our nervous energy. It ties into the flight/fight reaction. Our body releases adrenaline so that we are prepared to either run away from the stressor or to stay and fight it. In the case of speaking publicly, we are likely staying to fight. By choice! Well, perhaps in most cases.
Not everyone experiences shakes. Equally annoying can be nausea, dizziness, hyperventilation, headache and numerous other somatic complaints. While they are all annoying and perhaps very scary at the time, they serve a purpose. They are designed to keep us safe and out of trouble.
The challenge is in working past these somatic symptoms. In Toastmasters, we often talk about the ‘butterflies.’ These butterflies are the aches and pains we feel in our stomachs at times like when we have to speak in public. It has probably become a cliché, but it still holds true … the secret is to get those butterflies to fly in formation.
Anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It serves a purpose. When we have it under control, it can give us the energy to deliver a dynamic presentation.
Getting it under control, now there is the challenge.
I started using the technique of imagery in my early years of public speaking and continue to use it to this day. Here are a couple examples. I found that I was very nervous when being introduced as the speaker and having to move from my seat to the speaking area. My heart would be pounding and I would feel the belly butterflies doing the tango.
My solution was to use imagery. As I am waiting to be introduced, I’m processing several things simultaneously in my mind. I see myself going to the front of the room and everybody cheering and applauding me. Whether it ever happens to the degree that I envision it doesn’t matter. At the same time, I am rehearsing my opening line and preparing for the energy that I need to grab the audience’s attention from the opening. I also picture a spotlight on me, with everybody focusing on me. A superstar if you will.
Your mind tends to believe what you think. If you see yourself being successful, your mind will tell the rest of your body to get with the program.
Using imagery in another example, is to prevent the anxiety that I experience when I first stand in front of the audience. I help to minimize this anxiety-producing situation by checking out the speaking area in advance. If it is possible, I will go to the speaking area, doesn’t matter if the room is empty or not and gaze around the room. I look at where my audience will be sitting, looking from left to right and to the front of the room and to the back. I look to see if there will be any problems with sight lines. Will everybody be able to see me and will I be able to see them?
I also quickly practice my opening lines while there, in my mind. I further use imagery to see myself being successful and the audience hanging on every word I say. If you are going to imagine, might as well make it a good image.
Another technique often recommended to reduce the jitters is to “feel the pain” and do it anyways. Overcoming fear is the same as developing any new skill. It takes practice and lots of it.
Shaking is a physical manifestation of fear. As we become more confident, these symptoms no longer serve a purpose and will eventually disappear. I would suggest acknowledging that your shakes are only temporary and it is within you to work past it. Oddly enough the secret to resolving fear is to do more of what creates the fear in the first place i.e. speaking public. Speak often, speak whenever and to whoever you can.
Thanks for your question and good luck with moving past a whole lotta shakin goin on!
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Rae A. Stonehouse is an author, speaker, and self-publishing consultant dedicated to helping others embrace constant improvement and overcome challenges. With over 40 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in psychiatry and mental health, Rae brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for self-development to his writing and presentations.
As a 25+ year member of Toastmasters International, Rae has systematically built his communication abilities and self-confidence to share his insights as an author and speaker. His self-help books and personal development presentations aim to have conversational one-on-one connections with readers and audiences.
Rae is known for his wry sense of humor and sage advice delivered in a relatable coaching style. After four decades as a nurse, Rae has rewired rather than retired, actively writing and pursuing public speaking. He strives to share lessons learned to help others achieve personal and professional growth.