Nerves can be good but shaking isn’t!

Many people who give talks/presentations are nervous, especially if it is a new experience.

I am a musician and play and sing to audiences. Over the years, I have found that the only times when I have made serious mistakes, such as forgetting the words of a song that I have been singing for years, are the times when I have NOT felt nervous. Fear, however,  is different and debilitating and, if you are so nervous that you shake badly, your talk can go awry, so controlling your nerves is important. 

However, nerves can play their part in making your talk good, because they are part of our natural instincts to flee danger and so keep us on our toes. It is good to feel ‘butterflies’ before getting up to perform anything and a talk/presentation is a performance. It is important to have what I call “The 3 As”. Nerves keep us AWAKE, keep us ALERT and make us AWARE. 

It is important not to be afraid of the nerves themselves. 

It is necessary to be awake at important times and often, when doing an exam, job interview of giving a presentation, sleep might not have come easily the night before. Because of this, it is actually a good thing to feel a little nervous, because the adrenalin pumping round will keep the body awake and alert. Awareness of your audience in any performance or job interview is essential and the ability to sense the audience reactions to what is said and done is vital. In a job interview you have to present yourself as well as your knowledge and , if you can sense how the interview panel is reacting, you can adjust what you do and say. (They will try to be poker faced, but they are human and it is possible to read them if your personal Awareness app is working!) 

However, ‘butterflies’ do have a downside because the speaker will tend to shake, so holding notes or tablet computer is not a good idea. They/it should be placed on a table, lectern or desk. As a musician, I own a music stand, which I take around when I am playing or singing in different venues, to hold my music. It is an essential piece of equipment for musicians but speakers never seem to think of using them. I would suggest to anyone embarking on a career in presentations or talks that a music stand is a wise investment, even if it is not needed on many occasions. It is cheap, folds up into a convenient bag and can be left in the car if not required. This avoids the problems if there is no table or anything else to put notes on, or the table is too low so that a tall speaker needs binoculars to read them!

A folding music stand seems complicated to erect but, with practice, can be put up or taken down in seconds. It is not good for large books but will hold notes or even a tablet computer. Just make sure that the tripod legs are spread out enough to make it stable. If you haven’t used one before you will need to practise with it.

Type notes on one side of paper pages and, when changing pages, take a top corner of the paper and slide the top sheet carefully over to one side rather than turning it, as turning can lead to other pages being knocked onto the floor or blown by a breeze created by the turning – another potentially embarrassing moment. Whether you are right or left handed will decide the side you choose to move the pages to – it doesn’t matter. When the talk is over, the pages can be replaced in the right order for another time. When turning the pages on a tablet, do not do so too vigorously because it would be expensive to send that flying! If using a music stand, it is best if the tablet is in a case that can be folded back and attached to the stand. On a table or lectern there should be no problem. 

If using a laptop, a lectern is best if possible. This brings the screen closer to the speaker’s eyes and can be altered to the right angle, while allowing the audience to still connect. Viewing a laptop from a low table is not recommended but, if it is the only way, then ask if the audience minds your sitting down or you will be bending too much. 

Reading notes written in any form on a table that is too low, means that the audience sees too much of the top of the speaker’s head! You are not giving a talk to the floor or table! Always try to place your notes where you do not have to bend to read them. If you have to hold them, do not do so in front of your face, even if you prefer not to see the audience. Do not hold them too far down so that you are bending, for reasons I have already said.

With your notes secure and still, you can read them well. If you hold them and you are shaking, the notes shake, too, doubling the problem and making reading them almost impossible.

Feeling secure and comfortable with your notes and equipment will enable you to present your subject with confidence and your audience will enjoy it and be impressed. 


About Rosemary the Chickerell Chirper

I'm a private teacher of piano, guitar and music theory. I am married with two grown sons who now have families of their own. I have five granddaughters, two in NZ and three in England, including one set of twins. Ever since I was very young I have wanted to write and have had some poems and articles published but would love to complete a novel. I give talks about various things to local groups and play organ and piano at our local Methodist Chapel where I also lead the choir.
This entry was posted in Delivery, Giving a talk, Preparation, Using equipment, Using technology. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Nerves can be good but shaking isn’t!

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  2. Linda says:

    I’m glad to see your still getting into blogging and thanks for commenting on my Friday Fictioneers piece too. I’m a member of Toastmasters and we’re encouraged not to use notes at all when we speak, and if we do to make sure that we put them down – there’s nothing worse that watching a speaker nervously twisting bits of paper or pens in their hands. Personally, I’ve found neves can be helpful, it keeps me on track getting started and then helps me settle into the ‘role of presenter’, but I guess everyone is different 🙂

    • Hi Linda, Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, I tried to show how nerves can be helpful with my ‘Three As’ (Bother – how do you write ‘A’ plural without its looking like the word ‘As’?)

      Everyone is different and I try to allow for that but people are so afraid of nerves that the fear of the nerves is worse than the nerves themselves.

      Thanks for mentioning noteless speaking and I will write another blog a about memorising notes but, as this is aimed at novice amateurs, most will not manage without some aide memoirs. 🙂

      • Linda says:

        that’s very true Rosemary, I must admit though the longer I used notes the harder I found it to be a natural when presenting and speaking. For me, I found it stifled my heart – if you know what I mean 🙂

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