Trips, Sniffs and Nerves – Managing You, So You Can Manage Your Message

Nerves are the most common obstacles to the successful delivery of messages. Managing them can often make a difference in how your message is received. The trick is to acknowledge your nerves. If you are feeling a little nervous before a meeting, you may want to take something to settle your stomach. Sometimes eating a few soda crackers does the trick, while other people find using chamomile or mint tea may work best.  Have a breath mint in case your nerves set off a case of bad breath. Don’t have that extra cup of coffee or caffeinated soda, it will only add to your overall jumpiness.  Whatever you do, don’t pop a piece of chewing gum in your mouth, not only can it make any nausea you are feeling worst, you may also find yourself chomping away unattractively.  If you can’t seem to shake your nerves, tell the people that you are meeting with or presenting to that you are a bit nervous.  They are human and can relate to nerves and what’s more, they will generally work to put you at your ease.

If that won’t work, try some of these calming tips:

  • Do some deep breathing exercises, shoulder roles and neck stretches.
  • If your face tends to go red when you are nervous, consider wearing a red or bright shirt to offset your face.
  • Keep your food intake to simple non-fatty foods.
  • Never drink alcohol before a meeting.
  • Avoid taking medication that will make you drowsy.
  • Visualize yourself speaking, imagine yourself confident and assured.
  • Realize that people want you to succeed; they want a good meeting as well.
  • Forget about yourself, the audience is not meeting with you to see YOU, they want to hear your message so focus on your message not you.
  • Try to think ahead of all the possible questions you may be asked.
  • Be yourself, be genuine and natural.
  • Bring cheat notes for yourself in case your mind goes blank.

Keep in mind that all of the adrenaline moving through your system can be used to your advantage. With the extra energy, you are producing you can add passion and excitement to your discussion. If you have done your homework then you are operating at an advantage. You know your audience because you have researched them, you know your presentation content because you have practised it.  You have briefed the participants about what you will be discussing so there are no surprises because surprises at work are a bad idea.  In short, you are prepared for the meeting/presentation.

So now that you’re calm enough to string together a sentence, keep in mind a few things. Little things can easily distract you and others, so don’t do anything that will take away from your message. Wear clothes that are neat and tidy but most of all comfortable. Don’t get caught having to adjust a too tight tie throughout a meeting.  Continuously adjusting your tie can turn into a nervous habit that is distracting and has the additional side effect of making you look like a liar…or a bad Rodney Dangerfield impersonator.

If you have a series of meetings on the same day, wear sensible shoes. Stumbling into the arms of an unsuspecting colleague because the heels on your shoes are too high or your shoes are too tight and your toes have gone numb won’t help you to focus on your issues. Falling flat on your face isn’t exactly going to put you in the right frame of mind either.

Make sure your clothes don’t  detract from your message.  It would be unfortunate if, after taking the time to craft a smart message, the only thing your audience can remember is a low cut blouse or a shirt so loud it should have come with ear plugs.

Bring tissues.  There is nothing more distracting than a runny nose. Not only will you start to sound like a bloodhound on the trail of a fox, but your sniffling will distract you and everyone else in the meeting. On a similar line, avoid strong perfume or a heavy aftershave.   No matter how appealing the scent, in a small enclosed space it can be too much of a good thing.  There are also people with sensitivities or allergies to scent and a brief whiff of a strong cologne can give them a vicious headache or other unpleasant side effects.

A friend of mine was recently telling me about a colleague who had a violent reaction to the smell of chocolate.  Her reaction was so strong that one day when someone accidentally brought it into her space, she took one whiff and was out of commission for three days. Talk about leaving a lasting impression.

My best tip? Try to remember that you are in charge of your message and if you deliver it with confidence, then that’s how it will be received.

Do you have any memorable first impressions or meetings that have gone wrong or right stories to share?  I’d love to hear them.


0 responses to “Trips, Sniffs and Nerves – Managing You, So You Can Manage Your Message

  • Good advice I guess. I’ve had anxiety, on and off, for about twenty years. I often have to lead meetings, often with senior senior management in attendance. For four years, I also managed a team of 6. In other words, I have had to say things in front of groups of people who are all ears cocked at me, hanging on my every word one often thinks (although in reality they are probably barely listening at all and twiddling with their berries).

    In the end, I found doing the job day in, day out helped me to overcome my social anxiety in the context describe above. That and a small dose of Citalopram (10 mg). It’s such a small dose that I am convinced it only really works as a placebo. And it certainly doesn’t work for public speaking (i.e. standing up in front of 50 plus), which still terrifies me. That, too, I have to do, although I’ll try anything to avoid it. And my previous boss knew it too, and was wise to it, and actually took a bit of pleasure in making me do it: a charitable view would be that he did it for my ‘development’! But I have never developed in this regard and I I don’t think I ever will. Breathing, meditation etc does nothing. Sometimes we must know our limitations or up the dose of meds we’re on!

    • There are some hurdles that can be managed by the use of simple tools, but like most things in life there are degrees of difficulty. Deep rooted fear, like any emotional challenge that prohibits us requires careful consideration and management. Whether the solution is chemical or psychological is dependent on the individual and only the individual can determine what works for them. I note that despite the incredible challenge public speaking poses for you, you still try to face it. To me, the effort you choose to make despite your discomfort is by far the most important aspect of the challenge.

  • I really enjoyed this post, nerves are definitely my biggest obstacle when it comes to public speaking. I took a public speaking class and two other things that I learned were to always have water with you and to try to exercise lightly earlier in the day to get rid of some of that nervous energy. You provided some new ideas that I hadn’t thought of, though! Thanks for the post 🙂

    • Thanks for the additional suggestions Carissa. I get totally parched when I’m nervous and the exercise will not only get rid of extra energy it will help your brain to get in gear.

  • I wanted to come back & report that your tips really helped with my 1st “official” speaking engagment. While I was standing at the podium I mentally reviewed your tips in my head, then of course I worried about losing my train of thought, but I took deep breaths & I wasn’t a bag of nerves. Your advice was most helpful.

  • Dan Hitt says:
    March 27, 2013 @ 04:02 am

    I’ve been up there in front of people a few times and worked for PSAV a company that set up these kinds of things A LOT of times. I must say the mint tea thing has me really intrigued, as I’ve been reading a lot about diabetes and there are a number of sources that list the physical effects mint has on the body and it’s right in line with what you’re talking about. So very cool for me there.

    The comfortable shoes thing made me laugh, cause I had on uncomfortable shoes every time, as I was in full-dress and had on dress shoes rather than loafers… to my eventual dismay.

    For myself I always used the Tony Robbins thing of seeing people naked. I found that was a good distraction, although the nerves kept me from going TOO FAR with the naked thing. lol.

  • These are some great tips Debra. I found myself nodding my head in agreement several times. 🙂 You are so right when you say that most people want you to succeed.Once I embraced that concept, I went from an introvert who couldn’t make eye contact to someone who can stand before an audience of several hundred people to make a presentation. One tip that I find useful is to arrive early. That way, you can be seen and possibly introduce yourself to someone ahead of time. It is so reassuring to be able to make eye contact with a friendly face.

    • Thanks Sherryl. Great point about arriving early. For one, it gives you a sense of the mood of the room, but you’re absolutely right about it giving you a chance to meet people and get some encouragement. I also like to know the set up in advance and sort out the technology. I’m not a big fan of podiums, I like to walk around the room and engage with the audience or at least the front of the room if they don’t have a wireless set up. By getting there early I can usually get the set up I like best, which adds to my overall comfort.

  • I used to sing for competitions, in church, school, etc and I had the issue of “going hoarse” a day or two ahead of every event, I mean literally it was like my nervous system was introducing a bug just because I was freaked out. It’s gonna sound kitschy but I started meditating as a way to manage the stress and it eventually just stopped happening! Now I’m not nervous when I speak to crowds and don’t experience any of the symptoms because I’m relaxed and focused. Also, I love your point about the ‘audience being present for the message not YOU’, because of course I’m sure they’re checking out my outfit, hair and shoes haha.

    • I haven’t tried meditation, but I wonder if its like my centering exercise. When I first started public speaking I would stand with my feet apart and my arms loosely at my sides and think of a blank piece of paper. The idea was to calm down enough to talk coherently. As to checking out my outfit, years ago I asked a colleague of mine what she did to prepare for speaking engagements. She told me she always wore one outrageous thing, like funky tights or sparkly jewelry. She figured people would be distracted long enough for her to get on with the presentation. 🙂

  • The best advice I got from a boss was when he pointed out someone at work 3 years older than i was and said that three years before, he had been just as scared to speak as I was. I took a one-year public speaking class at a local community college taught by a Toastmaster and the next year was asked to give a presentation at a national conference.

    • That’s brilliant. Your old boss was a smart guy. I think Toastmasters is an amazing organization, they don’t just teach you how to speak, they teach you how to be confident.

  • morgandecker says:
    March 21, 2013 @ 06:42 pm

    Great tips! I always chug water to calm my nerves but I like the idea of drinking hot tea because that’s very soothing, I would just be afraid that it would make me feel sleepy!

    • Too funny! Can you imagine the presentation you would give if you were sleepy? Well at least you wouldn’t have to worry about nerves. Its hard to be sleepy and nervous at the same time.

  • Thanks for posting so many helpful tips. I’ve found that no matter where you are, in a stressful situation, a little humor can go a long way. Unfortunately that’s not so easy to find when you’re overly stressed.

    As for the sensible shoes, for sure, and I always prefer loafers, something at least half of any crowd can empathize with, and when I talk to them, they always want a penny for my thoughts. Given that I still have two feet, I get my two-cents worth in, so they are definitely the most “centsible” of my three pairs . . . but now I see our government is phasing out cents!

    Have yourself a corny day!:)

  • Great suggestions! If something has happened to distract me prior to a meeting or presentation I take a few moments and do some deep breathing and change my focus by visualizing a successful event. I’m sharing your post to help my contacts.

  • This post was right on time for me. I will speaking in the morning for an hour, I’ve never talked over 10 minutes in front of an audience before. God knew I need to read this. I will let you know how it turns out.

  • I never became a very polished speaker, but I did okay when I was in the classroom. I always trip and stumble over words from time to time, but once I realized it was a bigger deal to me than to others, I stopped doing it as much. On the occasion when I get really tongue-tied, I’ve found humor is the best approach, and then I move on!

    • Humans make mistakes, there is no getting around it, nor should we want to. I learn my best lessons from mistakes and I always use humour when delivering a presentation. Not only does it keep my audience entertained, it also puts people into a relaxed frame of mind.

  • I believe the best way to manage your nerves is to simply sit down and write out what you want to say, then type it up. It may be scary the first time around, but eventually you learn that doing something that is scary makes it less scary the next time you do it.

    • If you don’t know your material its like adding an extra and unnecessary barrier to the process. Writing it out and practicing means you’re less likely to forget key points and your also likely to deliver it in a rational order that makes it easier for you and your audience to remember.

  • Some people are so freaked out about public speaking that they have to take inderal to keep their heart rate down. (Absolutely, do not try this without the assistance of your physician!). My experience with public speaking is that, as with most things, practice improves performance. I don’t mean just practicing one’s presentation, but also actually presenting. You can start out small in less intimidating settings (i.e. family) and then build up to longer presentations in front of bigger audiences.

    • Practicing with family or friends is a great idea. Its gets you over the hump of hearing your own voice and it allows you to find any odd bits in the presentation that don’t flow as well as you’d like.

  • Thank you for elaborating on my last post “Could your visual presentations be better?”

    Great advice. Personally do a better job when I am a bit nervous since I, like you put it; “Keep in mind that all of the adrenalin moving through your system can be used to your advantage. With the extra energy you are producing you can add passion and excitement to your discussion. Remember, if you have done your homework then you are operating at an advantage.”

    Let’s face it none of us are on par with Cicero and he felt it was good to be a bit nervous. So why shouldn’t we be?

  • As a prior software trainer I always got nerves before a training. But then I stopped to remember that they are there to learn from me.

  • Great tips. I get extremely nervous speaking in front of a large group. I get sweaty and I can’t remember what I need to say. Ugh, it’s terrible! I like your suggestion of chamomile tea and some deep breathing. Seems like it could help with focusing and thinking clear. I am going to remember all of the advice you gave in this post. Thanks!

    • I’m glad it could help Karen. You have a lot of creative energy, consider that strength the next time you have to speak it should give you an extra boost of confidence.

  • Great advice! The name of your blog and the titles of your articles are so clever! Very cool 🙂 I once heard that public speaking is the number one fear among people across the world, but you certainly offer some good tips to manage it. Its especially important in the world of business to be able to effectively communicate an idea to a crowd without seeming nervous.

    • Thanks Kelly, very much appreciated! I’ve read that various studies have been done on fear and that 30% of respondents have said they would rather be dead than speak in public. Can you imagine how paralyzing that would be? In fact, fear of speaking is so pervasive that that it has its own name; glossophobia. I’m such a yapper myself that I had no idea how troubling this was for people until I started working with clients who would go from relaxed power houses to trembling kittens when they had to deliver a speech.

  • Love tips and I so get the part about having nerves before a meeting or presentation. Being dyslexic, I always worried I would mess up somewhere and it would cause me much trouble. One thing I would always do is to go to the restroom just before a presentation. It was the last thing I needed to worry about… LOL.

  • Good post, Debra. I’ve found that being a Toastmaster has really helped polish my presentations, build my confidence and making public speaking a pleasure vs a trauma.

    • I think Toastmasters is amazing. It can be transformational for people. I’ve seen my own staff go from shy almost to the point of retiring to volunteering to lead sessions as a result of Toastmasters.

  • That last bit, “you are in charge of your message” is a strong statement. The only one who can deliver your message properly is you. You can gain confidence from that.

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