Intention is the secret sauce. Really.
I’m like most other people—I get at least a little nervous when I’m speaking or presenting, especially when the situation feels like a high-stakes one. Fortunately for me, I coach people in public speaking and mindful communication for a living, so I know lots of tools to use when I feel the butterflies starting to take over. I know which techniques work best for me, and I pull them all out.
Here’s a typical scenario:
My husband and I are hosting a fundraiser at our theater, and we want the people there to give $25,000. As the cornerstone of the event, he and I are going to give a fifteen-minute talk about what we do, whom we serve, and why our theater is important to our community. We’ve done some version of this for the last ten years or so, but I always get a little nervous—the money is an important line item in our budget.
The content of the presentation has been done for days, and I’ve practiced a lot. Now it’s fifteen minutes before we go on, and my stomach is doing flips. The critical thing for me to do right now is to remember my intention—how do I want to affect my audience? I determined my intention before I created my content, and I used the intention when I practiced. Now I have to get grounded in that intention, and come from that place when I speak to the guests at the event.
What do you think my intention is? Remember, an intention is always a verb. To engage, to inspire, to connect, to persuade, to motivate…You get the picture. Counter to what you might expect, my intention is not “to raise $25,000” or even “to make them get their wallets out.” An intention should be lofty! Shoot high—assume your audience is a collection of the world’s most enlightened and wise people (they probably are.)
So in my case, my intention is “to inspire and invite the audience to be a part of our community.” If they deeply want to be a part of what we’re doing at our theater, they will want to give. But if they feel, on some level, like my presentation is hucksterism to convince them to write a check, they won’t be engaged. They may give a little money, but they won’t have formed a relationship with the organization.
Angie, hold the phone. How does this make you, and more importantly, me, less nervous?? Yes, I’m getting to that. Here’s the thing. When you’re nervous, what are you thinking?
“I’m going to screw up.”
“What if I forget what I’m going to say?”
“I’m so nervous.”
“I wish this were over.”
“I wish I had never agreed to do this.”
“Oh my god I’m on in five minutes.”
“If I just get through this, I’ll never speak in public again.”
Notice anything? Are you thinking about your audience, or yourself?
When we’re nervous, our attention turns inwards. It’s sort of like when we feel a cold or the flu coming on—we keep assessing ourselves to judge our current state. Remembering your deliberate, positive intention insists that you focus on your audience.
Stop thinking about yourself and your nerves, and think about those nice people out there, and how you can connect with, inspire, or engage them. This disrupts your pattern of thinking about yourself and your anxiety, and allows you to focus on your real object—the audience.