How to Make Nerves Work for You Not Against You

Posted on: May 10th, 2017 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

I remember when I was at school that one year my best friend got into the finals of a public speaking competition. He had to speak in front of a big crowd and he was second on the program. A teacher introduced the first speaker, a small, speckled red-headed girl. When her name was called, she turned a ghastly shade of white and then shook her head resolutely, refusing to get up on stage. Nerves had got the better of her. The teacher tried to beckon her out of her seat, but she would have none of it. My poor friend was then bumped up to first speaker. He rose from his chair and walked slowly to the front of the stage with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man going to the gallows. I don’t remember a word my brave little friend said, but I do remember his knees – nobly, bony knees that began shaking before he opened his mouth. Those knees trembled, shook and knocked for the full-two minutes of his speech. It’s amazing the kid didn’t fall over. Have you ever been so nervous that you’ve turned to jelly?

How Nerves Turn into Energy

Do you get nervous making speeches, addressing conferences or even presenting in front of work colleagues? When we suffer from nerves our bodies produce a unique energy, but it’s not necessarily bad energy. When some people get nervous they start to sweat, their heart rate increases and they tremble. Why? Because their body is preparing for action – to go into battle and bring back a bounty!

Ideally nervous energy should work for you, not against you. Nerves will only undermine you if you tell yourself that it’s a terrible situation and you are destined to fail. Ask any theatre actor or successful musician – a good performance requires a degree of nervous energy. If you stop feeling nervous, you should stop performing, because it’s clear that you’ve stopped caring. I read that even veteran paratroopers, who had been skydiving for years, suffer nerves before a jump. But courageous people are just normal people who turn nervousness into energy that works for them.

If you are about to get up in front of a room of people or if you’re about to be eaten by a wild animal, you perceive risk and instantly chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, surge through your body. Your heart speeds up. Perhaps your mouth also goes dry and you feel sick, but your senses are sharp – you are now operating at your optimum. You’re in peak survival mode! Research has found that nervous energy can make as better operators – cleverer and faster.

The Power of Positive Thinking

When you feel nerves, but need to perform, do some super-charged POSITIVE thinking. Tell yourself that this is good stress and it’s going to help you, it’s going to assist you deliver a superb presentation. Remember, risk leads to reward! Use that energy to move around the room, and put feeling and passion into your voice. In 2013 Rochester University studied two groups of people who had to give a speech, but the researchers told one of the groups that the nerves would definitely improve their performance. A group of independent judges then marked the speeches. The group who’d been told that nerves were helpful out-performed the other group.

Do your Homework

One reason people aren’t able to flip their fear into good stress is because they haven’t properly prepared so do your homework ahead of presentations, job interviews and public speaking. Research, write the main points on cards and even practice speaking in front of a mirror. Put in long hours of preparation and then tell that self-defeating little voice in your head that you’re on top of this. You can do it! When the hour comes to perform, reassure yourself again that it is normal to feel nerves – it’s expected. The truth is that you can’t excel unless you let yourself absorb that nervous energy.

Break the Cycle of Nerves

You might want to do some exercise on the morning of your presentation or perhaps listen to an up-tempo inspirational song to inspire you. How about the theme of Rocky? Don’t delay getting up on that stage or delivering your presentation. Stalling will only intensify nervousness. If you are suffering from physical manifestations of nervousness such as shaking and sweating, there are exercises to help you. Give your energy somewhere to go. Squeeze your stomach and buttock muscles tight a few times. Slow breathe. Breathe in for seven seconds then out for eleven seconds. Before you speak take some time out and find a quiet place where you can focus. You might want to try ‘cupping’. Make a fist then gently hammer your body, start at your legs and work up to release some of your energy. To stop your mouth drying out, bite your tongue on both sides. This will stimulate saliva production. Again think positive thoughts, even say a simple mantra, such as “I can do this and I will do this”.

Turn your Nerves into Friends

Right before you are about to speak, tell yourself that your nerves are your best friends, because that surge of adrenalin and cortisol will carry you to success. Picture yourself as a champion surfer riding a wave of nervous energy to success. How boring would life be if we never felt fear or nerves – if we always stayed within our comfort zone? To keep growing, you need to be challenged. Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believed that if life’s challenges constantly exceeded one’s skills, the individual would develop anxiety, but if the person’s skill level exceeded the challenge then he or she would become bored and never grow personally. Csikszentmihalyi called the ideal pitch of nerves the ‘flow channel’. This is the level at which the individual isn’t paralysed by anxiety or too bored to excel. Put simply, it’s the right degree of nerves to help you perform at your best!


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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