When Nerves Get In the Way of Effective Communication

Written by: Kathy Hatala, SVP & Principal Consultant 

You’ve been asked to give a presentation at the Monday morning staff meeting. You notice on the agenda you are the first speaker and the nerves start to kick-in:  sweaty hands, heart pumping, butterflies, dry mouth, etc. You also realize the CEO just walked into the meeting -   talk about even more pressure. Now, you are really losing it!

One of the top communication issues I hear from many Speakeasy clients is that nerves and anxiety are holding them hostage. These nervous feelings and bodily reactions can happen during any communication situation and cause many people to shy away from speaking up at all.  

Where do these nerves come from and how do you tackle the fear of speaking in front of others – whether it is small or large groups?  It’s time to embrace the fear…and do it anyway!

Nervous reactions begin when your head wants to control what your body is doing. Let’s go back to the scenario – you are ready to speak and self-doubt takes over, along with self-sabotage. The demands start in your head: “I am definitely going to mess this up now that the CEO is in the room… I was stuck in traffic, arrived late and I am not ready yet… I always get nervous and everyone will be able to tell right away!”  These negative thoughts then create a physical reaction. Your adrenaline kicks-in and it’s on overload – you tense up, your heart is beating out of your chest, your hands are shaking uncontrollably and you feel out of control.

Don’t let your “head talk” get the best of you! This is the time to focus on your body (not your head) and know you can manage the nervous reaction through your breath! Instead of shallow breathing from your chest, breathe low and slow from your belly. Practicing slow, steady breathing from your torso will settle the body and you’ll feel more in control.

Try this exercise any time before you speak.

  1. Take a long, steady breath of air through your mouth (count to 4)
  2. Expanding your belly (almost like blowing up a balloon)
  3. Take a long slow steady exhale (4 counts).
  4. Do this a few times.

Notice the breath coming from your belly. Your breathing supports your entire body and allows you to relax. 

The other technique I suggest and use often before speaking in front of others is to think of a time when you accomplished something significant and you felt good about it… like completing your first 5k run, or a great performance review from a boss, or when you completed your Master’s degree. Think of those feelings of accomplishment and triumph. You have the power within you to do that again when you speak. Focus on those positive feelings and own that confidence in all communication situations. 

It is time to embrace any fears you may have when speaking in front of others – practice breathing from the belly and learn to communicate & connect without the nerves. Speakeasy has been helping clients with this and many other communication gaps for over 46 years and we are glad to help! 

Tags: communication , new hires , interns , corporate , corporate communication , effective communications ,

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