Blood rushed from my brain to my legs.
My palms were soaked in sweat. My mind completely numb.
I was completely humiliated.
Even more so when the judges abruptly asked me to leave the stage.
A simple event for some was transformed into a “do-or-die” situation by me.
What caused this temporary condition? I was auditioning to play the trumpet in the youth symphony. And here’s the thing … I’d practiced playing my audition piece so often I could do it in my sleep. But when it came time to perform, I froze.
Has something similar happened to you?
Maybe you were giving a speech, but were so nervous you focused more on how many people were staring at you than the words you were saying.
Or maybe your nerves prevented you from even attempting to speak in front of a group in the first place.
Activities like auditioning, public speaking, cold-calling, and networking are all things that generally move your career ahead. If you do them with gusto.
If you don’t do them at all — or let your nerves get the better of you — it can be a huge obstacle to advancing in your career. And not only that, it can zap a huge chunk of enjoyment out of life.
If you feel you could use some help in this area, I’ve put together eight tips that will help eliminate the nerves and jitters that get in the way of you reaching your highest potential:
1. Make a “Fail List”
A “Fail List” is a list of things that you want to do in your professional and personal life, but don’t have the guts to do because there is a real chance you might fail. Include things that will stretch you and make you wonder whether you have what it takes. Your list might include going after a new client, cold-calling marketing managers, speaking at a conference, or doubling your fees.
2. Give the list a more positive-sounding name
Physically cross out the word “fail” and give the list a fun and motivational title, like your Go Get ‘em Tiger! list. This is important, because the way you talk to yourself about your goals makes a difference in whether you achieve them.
It works for Jazz trumpeter Bobby Shew. Instead of making a list of “Things I can’t do,” he recommends making a list of “Things I am learning to do.”
3. Do something on the list today
Don’t wait for the time to be “just right” and don’t wait until you feel comfortable. Understand that you aren’t going to feel comfortable — at least not at the start. But you’re going to do it anyway. The only way to find what you’re capable of accomplishing is to take action.
4. Identify the root cause of the fear
The sight of a clipboard triggered my audition-phobia because I was afraid of being judged and criticized.
Who isn’t, right? But if you’re going to be a successful writer, you not only have to accept criticism, you have to embrace it.
Which means you have to change how you think about criticism. For starters, never take it personally. Yes, it can sting, but most people who critique your work have your best interests at heart. It’s important that you look at criticism as an opportunity to improve, not only your work, but your knowledge of the craft of writing.
The cure for stage fright is preparation.
Giving a speech will only help your career if you knock it out of the park. Make sure you have enough time to prepare your slides, plan your body language, and rehearse. Take the time to consider what else will help you succeed.
Preparation can also take the fear out of writing. There’s no reason to fear handing in a story if you already let three friends read and proofread it. There’s no reason to fear handing your portfolio to someone if you know it is full of your best work. There’s no reason to fear talking to other professionals in your industry if you take the time every day to read, study, and keep up-to-date.
6. Learn to manage your concerns and fears
With music, I was afraid to play in front of other people. I trained myself to cope by playing my audition material in front of people, like my family, the band director, other teachers, and members of the community orchestra.
To help me get used to people grading me with a clipboard in hand, I asked someone in my practice audience to hold a clipboard. I then reminded myself that “they just need a hard surface to write on,” and trained myself to feel calm in that setting.
If something seems like a big deal, it’s often just in your head, and you can change the way you think about things. If you go into a nervous tizzy when you send a large proposal, don’t worry about whether or not you’re worth that much or obsess about how your client will react. Instead, calmly say, “This is the price of this service.”
If your head spins when you walk onstage before a speech, experiment until you find a body position that makes you feel grounded and calm.
If you lose focus or feel especially nervous delivering a certain passage of your speech, go over that spot again. Look for ways to make that section easier: cut words, or plan to take a sip of water so you can collect yourself.
Develop your own personal relaxation routine, and use it whenever you are facing a high-stress situation. If you have a CD, a scented candle, or any object that relaxes you, use that to calm you. Or go for a walk outside, meditate, or even take a quick nap. Just as a predictable bedtime routine can improve your sleep, a consistent relaxation routine can lower your stress level.
7. Replace nervous self-talk with positive visualization
Have you ever been about to go on stage, or go to an interview, and your mind would not shut up? “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if I trip over my own two feet when I walk into the room?” “What if I can’t hit the high note?” “What if I stutter?”
Those thoughts never help you, will turn you into a nervous wreck, and have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.
Silence your inner voice by sitting quietly and mentally rehearsing what you are about to do. Whether you’re going to do a cold call, a radio commercial, or interview, imagine yourself doing it perfectly. How are you holding your body? What does your voice sound like? Allow yourself to feel confident and at ease when you mentally rehearse.
8. Do whatever it takes to make it work
Self-improvement takes a lot of time. What will you have to give up in order to free up the time you need to improve your skills? When I was preparing for my college audition, I gave up socializing before school, and instead practiced for 10 minutes. What do you have to change in your daily life to gain enough time to make your project work?
Give up watching television at night? Work the occasional weekend? Take a course? Hire a babysitter or a housecleaner? For example, if you want to improve your career with public speaking, consider hiring a speech coach or joining Toastmasters.
Determine what you need to do to succeed and put a plan together to make it happen.
Successful copywriters get where they are with day-to-day habits like waking up early, watching less TV, studying new ways to market their business, thinking of ideas, reading, and staying curious.
But the writers who stick their necks out and separate themselves from the crowd are the ones who make the most progress. You can be one of them if you make a list of challenging career-advancement activities you’d like to try, make a plan to take action, give yourself ample time to prepare, learn to manage your fears, use positive visualization, and make changes in your life so you have the time to reach your goals.