I’ve been performing or presenting in some form or fashion since I was 14 years old. In choirs, as a soloist, a trainer, facilitator, or speaker, I’ve been getting “on stage” for 35 years now. Once I while I’m asked, “Do you still get nervous?”
My answer is always “Yes” and that answer is often met with a look of confusion. Like, how can you have been doing this kind of thing for as long as you have and still feel nervous about it?
What I found myself explaining most recently is what I think of as the difference between functional and dysfunctional nervousness.
My functional nervousness is a result of an energy surge that comes from having an opportunity to do something I care deeply about – be it speaking or singing – and my desire to do the very best job I can possibly do. That nervous energy reminds me that I care and I would be very concerned not to feel it in the moments leading up to the experience.
Dysfunctional nervousness on the other hand, comes from a lack of passion (I’m doing this even though I don’t want to and I hope they don’t notice), a lack of preparation or a lack of experience, and possibly a combination of all three.
Dysfunctional nervousness is the type that induces fear and the very real desire to run away as fast and as far as possible.
My recommendation for moving from dysfunctional or debilitating nervousness to functional or energizing nervousness is to do the following:
- Whatever it is, don’t go through the motions. Find your personal passion in the material and deliver it from there. If you can’t find that, what are you even doing there?
- Don’t wing it. Do your homework and be prepared. That way, you can put your attention on your audience – who very much want you to succeed – and create an environment of generous, reciprocal positive energy.
- Get more at bats. Say “yes” to more opportunities. There is no better teacher than experience and if you really want to feel functional nervousness you’re going to have to go out and find/create the opportunities to do so.
Not only does my being functionally nervous remind me that I care, it reminds that I am alive. That aliveness – that energized and activated presence – is the greatest gift you can give to those who have come to listen.