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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I’m not good at speaking. I get too nervous.”

Stage fright keeps so many people from sharing their expertise and wisdom with the world.

And now there’s Zoom fright!

I’ve been coaching the presenters for a two-day virtual conference—at least half of them have started our session telling me they get nervous when they present, they can’t stand talking to a camera, and they’re terrible at this virtual speaking.

I try to normalize their experience. Truth is, a lot of us feel some performance anxiety when we get ready to speak. And even some professional speakers at the top of their game are not exactly enjoying the transition to virtual.

So, whether you jump on Teams with your colleagues and present a report, introduce yourself at a virtual networking meeting, or go all out speaking at an online event … it’s a good bet you feel a wave of nervousness just before you begin. And that sensation may continue for a while as you speak.

That doesn’t make you a bad speaker. It makes you human.

And evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense. Our ancestors would not have been happy to notice all eyes on them. That would have made them prey.

So that’s exactly how your body responds in front of an audience, virtual or otherwise. Adrenaline kicks in, you’re ready to fight or flee. And you may experience some combination of rapid, shallow breathing, dry mouth, tight chest, flushed face and neck, trembling hands, shaky knees, maybe a quiver in your voice. Some people even get nauseous.

All of it is normal, if not pleasant. All of it will pass. And you can speed up the process.

I have practical tips. And a point of view.

First the pragmatic:

  • Stay away from caffeine or other stimulants when you’re about to speak.
  • Move your body – walk around, do some arm circles, even jumping jacks. Anything to discharge some energy and loosen up.
  • Sense your feet on the floor. Ground yourself. When we’re nervous, the energy tends to swirl around our head and shoulders. As you stay in touch with the sensation of your feet, your energy will be lower in your body.
  • Pay attention to the power center just below your navel. Again, that will help slow the swirling energy.
  • You may even try some slow deep breathing before you speak.
  • Pause before you begin to talk. Give yourself a moment to connect with your audience.
  • If you can see their faces, take a moment to appreciate that they’re here, interested in what you have to say. If you’re looking at your own slides or a bunch boxes with names in them, imagine one person you’ll be talking to.
  • Look through the camera and have a conversation with that person.

Here’s where the point of view comes in.

I got on a roll when I read a successful speaker’s article, “Crushing Butterflies.” His theory: those butterflies only show up when you’re not confident. They feed on self-doubt. You can crush the butterflies when you know your material inside out.

Okay. Well …

I hate the imagery of crushing butterflies. I want to ride on the butterflies’ wings. And I want that for you too.

So yes, do prepare yourself. The guy’s right—it’s useful to know your material inside out. Know, too, that it’s perfectly possible to be confident, knowledgeable, and nervous when you take your place in front of the webcam.

That anxiousness you feel is energy. Just energy. Instead of trying to squelch it, or crush it, or even ignore it … use that energy to connect with the individuals in your audience.

Imagine your energy traveling to each of the people listening to you. Your eyes to their eyes. Your heart to their heart.

Remember that the main thing the audience wants from you is—you. Yes, they’re interested (you hope) in what you’re talking about. Your expertise, your insights, your experience. They’re all valuable. But the relationship you create with your listeners trumps content every time.

Think of your virtual presentation as a conversation rather than a performance. You don’t have to impress anyone; you don’t have to put on a show. You just need to connect with your audience, one person at a time.

And you will be fine. Even if your face is flushed or your mouth is dry, or your knees are weak. Let those butterflies carry you along. And as you do, you … and your audience … will be able to relax and enjoy the conversation.

What do you say, does that sound like a plan?

Post a comment below about your experience getting comfortable with those virtual presentations.