Overcome nerves when speaking in public by taking a leaf out of Naomi Osaka’s book
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
At the tender age of 20, `Naomi Òsaka, a Japanese tennis player, reached the final of the 2018 US Open, which is the biggest stage in the tennis world and where she is to play the greatest female player of all time and her personal idol, Serena Williams. How about that for pressure!
In the press conference after her semi-final win, journalists kept asking her about the importance and longer term impact of her result. But Naomi Osaka did what every tennis player and sportsperson needs to do. She just refused to take the long view and focused on the next match, trying to treat it as any other even though it would be the biggest of her life.
The same approach is one of the keys to dealing with stage-fright when presenting. Thinking about the impact the presentation may have on you and your career and about what the audience will think about you will only increase your nervousness and will sap your energy that should go towards doing your best. Instead, you should be focusing on what you have to do in the presentation, rehearsing mentally and visualising yourself doing well.
The key here is to see yourself with your mind’s eye on stage, delivering well, confidently and calmly. And don’t just see. Feel it. Feel the calmness and confidence. Feelings are very powerful influencers of our mind. This way you are basically giving it orders in a language the mind understands to find a way for you to do what you are visualizing and feeling.
Although visualization is a powerful tool, it will not substitute for thorough preparation and long hours of practice. These two are the cornerstones of every successful performance. But supporting hard work with visualization, rather than allowing our fears, doubts and insecurities to put us into a nervous death spiral, will give us the necessary edge to perform better and keep our nerves from undermining our performance.
In a tennis match, a player should only pay attention to the point they are currently playing and between points only to the next point. Similarly, during a presentation, you need to concentrate on the next thing you have to say and do, rather than what the audience is thinking about you.
The latter thoughts are ones some of my clients who fear public appearances say go through their minds when in front of an audience. Even when speaking to a group of colleagues. For example, a client from São Paulo recently told me how he keeps forgetting what he wants to say next because thoughts about what his audience was thinking about him and how they were judging him kept interrupting his train of thoughts.
Don’t forget that a bit of nervousness is good and natural. It just shows you care. Everybody is nervous before an important performance event. Nervousness only becomes a problem when we allow it to hijack our thoughts, which should be firmly locked in on what we have to do on stage. Or on court if we play tennis.
How it worked out for Naomi Osaka? She won her first US Open title. The match turned out to be controversial but due to no fault of hers. She kept her cool and focus and performed brilliantly. And so can you if during the preparation and delivery you focus on what you have to do to give your best and stay in the moment.
If you find the ideas in this post interesting, drop me a line. Share what aspects of your presentations you would be interested in improving. And I’ll be happy to cover it in a post.