Not-So-Private Nervous Reactions to Public Appearances

I hear from many of my author friends that they hate the public part of the business even though they realize that it's required. If you've been reading the last week's posts, you probably know that I'm not particularly bothered by speaking to groups or meeting new people. After teaching communication for thirty years, I can tell you that whatever your nervous symptoms are, everyone has something, and they probably will never go away. All you can do is minimize them. Here are a few things to try.

If your voice gets funny when you're nervous, do two things. Practice a generic first line so that you know exactly what you're going to say. Simply, "It's so nice to be here," or "It's great to meet you," will do. At the last moment before you have to speak, take a deep breath and let it all out. This forces those tight chest and throat muscles to relax and gives you the best hope for a normal-sounding voice.

If you have sweaty hands, do the old interview trick and dry them on your clothes just before entering the room. If you don't have to shake hands with anyone, just ignore the sweat.

ALWAYS use the bathroom just before an event. Having to go is a common reaction to nervousness.

Shaking is hard to hide. Practice places to put your hands where their tremors aren't obvious. They do have to move eventually for you to look natural, but keeping them clasped gently, behind your back, or in your pockets for the first minute or so isn't a bad thing. Again, practice so it looks natural.

There's no way to control blushing, which happens to be my nervous reaction. My neck gets big red blotches and my nose turns red when I'm under stress. Being female, makeup is somewhat helpful, and I tend to choose high-necked clothing for public appearances. Mostly I just ignore it until it goes away.

Forgetting everything , even your name, in that first stressful moment plagues some speakers. As they look at the faces of strangers, every word they've planned seems to disappear. Here again, memorizing that first line is essential. Once you get past that, your brain will kick into gear and help you out. If it doesn't there should be notes to consult (never text, of course).

As I've stressed over and over, preparation and practice are your two best friends. Think about all the possible scenarios, think about how you want to appear to these people, think about how good you'll feel when you've accomplished your mission. Much of fear comes from imagination, and the biggest help to those who fear failure is to understand that it isn't lethal. Audiences are quite forgiving if they can see you've made an effort.

And so what if someone leaves commenting to a friend, "Did you see the blotches on that woman's neck?"

I have convinced myself to believe that the friend's answer will be, "Yes, but what she had to say was interesting, wasn't it?"

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