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Never Let Them See You Sweat

As if giving a presentation isn’t hard enough, now you’re sweating.   You know you’re never supposed to let them see you sweat but it’s too late.  They know you’re nervous.  How could you avoid this embarrassing situation?  

Someone who is really anxious about performing may break out in a flop sweat. The term comes from the theater, from worries that one’s performance will cause the play to flop.  This worry may cause nervous perspiration. One of the best illustrations of this can be found in the 1987 film Broadcast News. Albert Brooks’s character breaks into a flop sweat when he finally gets a shot at hosting the newscast.  Watch the video clip.  

In all my coaching years, I’ve never run across clients with serious flop sweat issues.  However, I have worked with presenters who suffer from some degree of stage fright exemplified by sweating, increased heart rate, shaky hands or shallow breathing.  These behaviors are the body’s natural responses to anxiety.  

Research documents abound regarding why we get nervous, and how to take control of your nerves when speaking in front of a group. Refer to my blog post about managing nerves.  

No one remedy works for everyone, in fact, no one remedy works period.  To be perceived as a confident and compelling presenter requires practicing different techniques throughout your life.  

This post is focused on your behaviors (your ‘tells’) that betray you and therefore convince the audience that indeed, you are sweating bullets.  This blog post is all about how to hide your ‘tells’ so your audiences perceive you as more confident than you really feel at the moment.  Interestingly, hiding your ‘tells’ makes you feel more confident as well.  
According to the legendary reporter Edward R. Murrow, “The only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained their butterflies to fly in formation.”I’ve heard that quote over the years yet never really understood exactly what that meant.  I get it theoretically, not practically.  

Go ahead, feel nervous.I have always believed that if a presenter isn’t a tad nervous they are either bored or boring.  Nerves work for us.  They help keep us alert, focused and sharp.  I contend that we can fool our audiences and ourselves into believing that we’re fine simply by changing a few key behaviors.  

What are four key ‘tells’ audiences observe when they “see you sweat”?
  • Dancing feet
  • Eyes flitting around the room
  • Hands wringing or flailing or fisting
  • Words rushing out
Here are four critical steps to start training those butterflies.

1.  Dancing Feet  - Get Still
Get Still!  That means, get grounded before you launch. Feel your feet beneath you, shoulder width apart. Plan your moves across the floor.  Yes, great presentations are choreographed.  Don’t move accidently and that includes swaying, standing on one leg then the other, stepping forward and backwards or simply moving with no purpose.To practice getting still, stand on a piece of 3’ X 3’ butcher paper and practice the opening of your presentation.The rattling of the paper will give you feedback that you’re NOT standing still.  When you have a reason to transition, a change in topic for example, step intentionally off the paper, walk a couple steps and get re-grounded.With practice, you won’t need the ‘puppy training’ paper.

2.  Eyes Flitting around the Room - Look at Me
I attended a play a couple weeks ago at a relatively small theater.  Every seat allowed for a clear view of the stage.  At one point, I was sure the actress was looking directly at me.I caught myself smiling back to her, convinced she and I had a special connection.  Of course, she was looking out into a darken theater and couldn’t possibly have seen little ole me.  However, she made me think she did.  She made the people to my left, right behind and in front of me feel the same way.  

That is exactly what is going to fool an audience into thinking you’re calm.  When your eyes stop flitting around the room and land on someone’s eyes long enough for them to feel your presence, you will have made a connection with everyone in the room.  The next person is now looking forward to your private connection and so is the next and the next.  You’re suddenly on stage, having a conversation with one person at a time.Just make sure you don’t over stay your welcome with any one person.  That makes them nervous.  

3.  Hands Wringing or Flailing or Fisting - Drop Your Arms 
If you are covering your belly, your heart, your mouth or protecting any other vital organs while presenting your material, the audience will sense your nervousness.  To fool them, drop your arms and open your body language.  Let them know you’re open to their feedback and scrutiny.  Open those fists as well.  Let go of that tension.  Even if you feel like closing up and crawling into a ball, stand up straight, show them with your body language that you can take any arrows thrown at you.  Showing a palm is a sign of trust.  As Amy Cuddy says, in her Ted Talk, “Fake it until you become it.”  
You can’t just stand there with your arms at your side, of course, but it is from that position that you can begin to gesture with intention.  

4.  Words Gushing Out – Take Your Time
When we get nervous, we speed up our speech patterns.  Words get crunched, sentences are left unfinished.  When the words start flooding out, you’re signaling that you want “out of there, off the stage, out of the room”!  I want you to send a message to your audience that you are going to take your time and finish when you’re finished.  (Within the allotted time frame, of course.)  By the way, did you know that when your eye contact is short, your pace quickens?  Solid eye contact can have a very positive effect on your well-paced presentation.  

Let’s see, you’re now going to get still, make great eye connections, have open body language and pace yourself.  Sounds like you might just look confident after all!  How do you feel now that you've succeeded in not letting them see you sweat?  

For more help with nervousness or any other presentation skill challenges, contact Red Cup Learning.  We’re here to help.  


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