The Art of Communication podcast transcript
Episode 4: Don’t let Nerves derail you!
Hello, this is Sian Hansen and welcome to The Art of Communication podcast. I’m here with Robin Kermode.
In this podcast, we’re going to be talking about nerves and how you deal with them. So Robin, my first question to you is, why do we get nervous?
Well, ultimately, we get nervous because we’re frightened. And we get frightened for all sorts of reasons. We tend to get more nervous, of course, in pressured situations, where the outcome of that meeting or talk or conversation matters. I’ve been for job interviews that I don’t really want. And for some reason, the body responds in that way. And that’s one of the things we should look at today.
Do you think it’s something to do with being judged by the other person or by the audience? Is that why we get nervous? Because we’re being judged?
What do you certainly do in an interview situation? Of course, we feel judged, and we don’t want to lose face. So we don’t want to look stupid as adults. You know, as children, we don’t really care because we explore we try things, oh, this is new. It’s great. But as an adult, we think other adults are saying, but you should know how to do that. So do you have some tips for us on just how we deal with those butterflies as they arise?
Basically, the body goes into fight or flight, we feel under threat. And the subconscious brain is saying run, it’s fairly obvious. If we’re walking down a dark alleyway, and we see some frightening people walking towards us, we’re going to feel very frightened. And we’re probably going to turn around and run. But in an interview situation, of course, the interviewer is very unlikely to be out to get you, in that sense, but it feels like they’re out to get you! So the fight or flight response kicks in. Now, of course, your conscious brain , I know the interview isn’t going to attack me. I know the audience, if I’m giving a speech, isn’t going to attack me. But it feels like that to the subconscious brain. And the subconscious brain says run. You can’t run because you’re sitting in the interview chair, or you’re giving a talk.
Yes, fair enough. And you’re standing there and you’re shaking and your throat dries up. But what’s actually happening there physically?
There are seven responses, basically. So the first response is your heart rate goes up. Why does your heart rate go up?
Well, I imagine it’s to get the blood circulating.
Yeah, it is to get the blood circulating, and the blood is transporting oxygen and adrenaline to the legs and the arms so that you can run you can run. The first thing that happens when you’re under pressure is your heart rate goes up. And I have to say, I walk down the street and see a policeman and my heart rate goes up. And I’m generally fairly law abiding. But for some reason, I start acting naturally, then, of course, the policeman looks at me trying to act naturally, and I look guilty as hell. That’s not a good thing. So the first thing that happens is your heart rate goes up. Now the next thing that happens is, because the blood has been transported to the legs and the arms so that you can run, you have less blood in your head, and with less blood in your head, you tend to forget what you’re going to say, making you more nervous. And especially if it’s happened before. Quite often people say to me, I had a very bad experience five years ago, where I had to give a big presentation and my boss said, you were just terrible, the deal went out the window. Of course, you’re worried that that’s going to happen. Again, it’s a bit like being thrown off a horse, you have to get back on the horse again quickly. So I would say to anyone listening, if you’ve had a bad experience, it probably was a one off, just get back on and do a small talk somewhere. The next thing that happens is adrenaline is also sent to your eyes because you’re trying to find an escape route. Now, if you have too much adrenaline in your eyes, you tend to look a bit starey and wild eyed. I’ve seen plenty of speakers standing on the stage looking slightly manic because there’s too much adrenaline in the eyes. So I’m going to give an exercise a little bit later that will get rid of all these seven fight or flight responses if we ever have them. Most people will have one or two of them, they won’t have all seven. But it’s useful to go through them in case any listener has them. The next thing that happens, coming down the head is that when it comes to the throat, if you’re going to run, which the subconscious brain thinks you’re going to do, you don’t want to choke on saliva. So the brain stops producing saliva. So you end up with a dry mouth.
This is just a recipe for disaster.
And it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because, you know, you think I’ve got this big presentation to make the night before. You go to bed thinking, Okay, I don’t want to mess this up the next day. So you don’t sleep very well. And of course, the conscious brain is saying, I know what I’m doing, my presentation is ready, my words are right, it’s all appropriate for the audience, so I should be in a good state. But the subconscious brain says, I’m going to make you sweat, shake, pass out, vomit, die, all these things, adn they aren’t great.
I have to say, I’ve got this image of me standing on stage, and my legs are shaking, and my mouth is dry. And I’m staring at the audience.
And interestingly enough, we think that the audience can see that, because it’s so immediate and so real for us, those feelings. And you often say to people afterwards in the audience, they said, You looked fine. But, internally, it feels terrible.
It’s always better than you think. You are absolutely right.
Always better. It’s useful to be able to combat these seven fight or flight responses, otherwise they will internally derail us and that’s what we don’t want. So the next thing that happens is the subconscious brain says let’s not make a sound, because if there’s a threat, we don’t want that threat to see us or to notice us. So the voice box is turned off, therefore, we have to turn the voice on consciously. Next thing that happens is our lungs are taking too much air. So we tend to feel a bit over oxygenated. You have no blood in your stomach, so you tend to feel a bit sick. And if you don’t run, your legs and arms start to shake because they’re over dosed with adrenaline, and all the other chemicals of the fight or flight response. So basically, what we don’t want to do is to stand there shaking, sweating, blushing, feeling nervous, forgetting what we’re going to say, and thinking the audience think you just look terrified.
And your voice is cracking.
Yes, and when you go for a job interview, of course, you want to come across as looking confident, you don’t want to come across as nervous. Now, most of us, of course, when we with our friends and family, we’re fine. We’re perfectly functioning adults, this isn’t a major issue most of the time. But I’ve worked with CEOs and politicians around the world. And whatever level you’re at, at some stage, they will feel nervous. Not every day. But there are certain television appearances, certain speeches, certain interviews, that are really important. And those are the ones that could be the killer ones. Or your wedding day. The are many people that ask me, Can I just take 10 minutes at the end of our session, because I’ve got to be a Best Man next week. We’ll cover best man speeches in another podcast, because that’s a whole minefield.
So now we’ve been through the Seven Deadly Sins of the subconscious. And you’re standing there on stage and you’re incredibly nervous. I’m assuming that you have some top tips to deal with these symptoms, before you even get on stage? Or before you even walk in the room for the interview?
The first thing is to plan, because if you’ve arranged your thoughts in advance, then you’re more likely to come across as being confident
Yes, but Robin, so many people say I’m not going to rehearse it, because I’ll come across fresher.
Yes, I used to be an actor, as you know. And actors, of course, have to do the same show in the theatre over and over again, and maybe do eight shows a week. And each show has to be, or has to appear to be, the first time you’ve ever done it. So if you’re playing Hamlet, and you’re about to say, To be or not to be, you can’t say to the audience To be or not to be, that’s the question. In fact that’s the same question I asked myself at the matinée yesterday! It has to be fresh, it has to be in the moment. And that’s a trick that actors do. But I would say not preparing is really not the answer.
Okay, so here we are, you’re preparing. And that helps you deal with the nerves. What’s next?
Then we have to have some physical exercises to deal with the nerves because we have to bypass the conscious brain and we have to do something physical. And these are not things you normally do in front of the audience. Of course, you do these backstage, you’ve maybe you go to the cloakroom, but you find a space on your own to do these. The first thing I would suggest you do, is to breathe into your lower stomach, that’s below the belly button, breathe in for a count of three, and out for a count of three. And you do that three times, that’s 18 seconds. What that does is it tends to calm your voice, makes it more emotionally connected, but it also takes around 10 beats per minute off your heart rate. Okay, that’s the first thing. The other thing to know is that if you’re going to be standing and giving a talk, it’s physically impossible to shake. If you squeeze your buttocks or your thighs! Not, not with your hands, of course! If you squeeze the muscles, clench the muscles, the subconscious brain is saying you are moving the big muscle groups, by clenching the buttocks or thighs. It sends a signal to the brain saying, Ah, you’re moving the big muscle groups, so you must be running, I can stop producing adrenaline, and the whole cycle stops very quickly. It’s physically impossible to stand there and shake if you clench your buttocks or your thighs.
Okay, that’s your homework for today.
You don’t have to do this the whole way through the talk. I’m talking about the first few seconds because we’re more nervous in the first 30 seconds than any other time.
Right. So we’ve done our breathing exercises, we’ve clenched our bottom and our thigh muscles. What else can we be doing?
There’s another thing you can do if you’re sitting down. If you put your hands in prayer position with your forearms level with the floor. You take a breath in and as you push out, you squeeze your hands together. And as you squeeze your hands together, you breathe out. And that releases the upper chest. It is quite a good one for the voice. But it also gets rid of some of the fight or flight responses.
Right. That sounds good. Now what about your voice? Your throat is dry. Your saliva has dried up and your voice is croaky. Is there a voice exercise we can do before we go on stage or before the conversation?
Well, there’s a very good one, which is what I call the big face small face exercise. Shake your hands up and down really fast to get rid of some of the excess adrenaline at the same time as doing that. Make a big wide face a big wide stretch your mouth wide open and the eyebrows going up with big wide face …
Listeners, he’s doing it now!
Yep. And then a tiny little face. You scrunch up. Then into a big face, small face, big face, small face. What it does is it releases the throat. There was a great book a few years ago called the Inner Game Of Tennis, and they’ve actually done the Inner Game Of Golf. Various other sports as well. But the idea is that when you’re practicing, when you’re knocking up before a match, you tend to be more relaxed, the arm seems to flow better. Makes sense. But as soon as you get into a pressured situation, like a match, just like a job interview, everything slightly tightens up, and therefore you don’t hit the ball quite as freely. So what the book is saying is you distract the brain by focusing on something else. So what I’m saying is do silly exercises to distract you in tennis. What the book is saying is, as the ball is spinning towards you, instead of thinking, Where am I going to place it or anything else, you just try to distract the brain and you try to read the writing on the ball, which will say, Slazenger, , Dunlop, Head or whatever the make is. As it’s coming towards you just try to read it. And funnily enough, if you do that, you will hit the ball in the centre of the racket. That’s where the expression comes from, you know, keeping your eye on the ball. And if you take your eye off the ball, you don’t hit it in the centre of the racket, which means it tends to go into the net.
Amazing. Absolutely amazing. I remember you once gave me an exercise which I used. You said face the wall. Again, in a private place, in a corridor or cloakroom, face the wall, put your hands about shoulder height to the wall, and press really hard that you’re trying to push the wall away. And I have to say that one really works for me.
It does, it has the same effect as the prayer position one, where you’re pushing the hands together, because what you’re trying to do is release the upper chest. So either you do it pushing your hands, or you do it towards an inanimate object, like a solid wall, and you push and push and push. But it gets rid of all the fight or flight responses, and it really calms you down. Basically, it tricks the brain as well into thinking about something else, as opposed to thinking about the nerves,
Right. So here we are, we’re in the middle of our speech, we’re in the middle of our interview, and the nerves come back. And sometimes the nerves come back because you say the wrong thing, or you stumble over your words that you’ve rehearsed, or someone in the audience asks a difficult question in the middle of your speech, and suddenly you get nervous again, you get derailed. So do you have some top tips, when you get derailed when the nerves are coming back?
The simple answer is to slow down and to breathe, the temptation is to react because if something goes wrong, you tend to come in too fast, and you end up justifying. And it’s rather like when you’re a child and you’re accused of something, you get very defensive and say, Well, I didn’t throw the ball through the window. And I didn’t do this. And I didn’t do that. So we end up trying to justify ourselves. And that doesn’t work. If you take a moment to think about it. And then you respond. It just gives you a chance to calm down.
So we’re coming to the end of the speech, how do you end it so that you you’re filled with confidence, your nerves are out the window and you end on a high?
It’s really important to end how you started, looking like you want to be there. And one of the simplest ways to look like you want to be there, is to Twinkle. Now I use the word twinkle, because if I say to people smile, they tend to have too much of a toothpaste commercial smile. And it restricts the voice. I’m talking here about the Inner Twinkle. And if you can have that it makes it look like you want to be there. Imagine an actor on stage coming towards the end of the show. The show’s finished, the curtain comes down, it comes up again, and they come on to take their bow. Now if they feel that the performance hasn’t gone very well, and they came out and gave an apologetic bow, that’s the way that the audience will judge them, they walk out they’ll say, Oh, I was a bit nervous tonight. But if they came out, even if they feel it hasn’t gone very well, and they give a confident smile to the audience and allow the audience think they were really good, the audience will feel that you have enjoyed it and you’re confident, if you just have a little Twinkle towards the end.
That makes sense, and it’s a good place to finish this podcast. Robin, I want to thank you very much. That was fascinating. And I must say I don’t feel nervous at all.
Brilliant. And just remember, squeeze those buttocks!
Thank you for listening. It’s goodbye from me
And it’s goodbye from me. For more information on my online public speaking masterclass, visit robinkermode.com