It's Okay to Feel Nervous

It’s Okay to Feel Nervous

Imagine this …

  • You have a big sales pitch coming up.
  • You’ve been promoted to a leadership role and have to manage people.
  • You’ve been asked to present to clients, donors or the board.
  • You’re speaking on a panel or at a conference.

And you’re nervous

  • Maybe your heart races and hands shake.
  • Or you have to prepare, yet the mere thought of “speaking” creates preparation avoidance.
  • Perhaps you’re wondering why you said “yes” in the first place.

The most seasoned professionals get nervous

Last Thursday, thanks to an invite from my friend and colleague Amy, I attended the City Year Women’s Leadership breakfast at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. Nearly 700 professional and entrepreneurial women gathered for a morning of networking, an inspirational panel discussion and the opportunity to contribute to future success and initiatives at City Year. (For what it’s worth, the event raised over $300,000 for City Year programs. Talk about empowered women.)

The speakers were top notch. The moderator, a 20-something former city year participant turned mentor, had a clear zest for life. She shined as she told stories and engaged the panelists with poignant questions. The panelists included the President of Investments at a large financial institution; the President of a Boston area Community College; and the Principal of a Boston area middle school.

These women had reached a pinnacle of success in their respective fields and yet, during the panel, I heard at least two of them admit to feeling nervous.

Can you imagine sitting on a stage, staring out upon a cavernous, yet elegantly decorated, ballroom filled with 700 women? And then admitting that you’re nervous?

It’s okay to feel nervous

Feeling nervous is normal and shows you care. A racing heart, sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach represent energy – a requirement for engaging, dynamic communication. The key is to use that energy in a positive way instead of letting it keep you stuck.

Now, I don’t always recommend acknowledging the nervousness – you have to know your audience and environment. Where this conversation centered around professional struggles and how to overcome them, the acknowledgment of nervousness made sense as part of the conversation. However, if you’ve been asked to give a high stakes presentation or have an important meeting with a client or employee or the board of directors, you probably won’t want to verbalize nervousness. Instead, deal with it before the interaction.

But how?

Manage nerves before they manage you

  • First, acknowledge how you feel. Let me repeat: It’s okay to feel nervous. Acknowledge, out loud, how you feel so you can do something about it. A simple “I feel nervous!” is enough.
  • Second, be aware of the impact. Is the nervousness so severe that it keeps you from speaking up or saying yes to opportunities? Or is the nervousness turning into ticks that become a distraction to listeners when you speak? Be aware of how the nervousness shows up and impacts you, your relationships and business or leadership effectiveness.
  • Finally, take action. A few deep breaths, a brisk walk, taking time to organize thoughts, and most importantly getting grounded in who you are and the value you bring can make a world of difference in how you show up to the interaction.

Here’s the bottom line

Again, feeling nervous is normal and shows you care. The key is to use that energy to prepare, practice, and add pizzazz to your message or interaction.

Remember, your voice matters. Keep shining.

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About the blog

Humor, stories, and insights, delivered 2x per month, to perform without the pressure.

Topics include mental health, work, human connection, creativity and more.


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