My nerves took me by surprise…

Nerves Credibility

Last week I ran a new workshop for the first time – Credibility Killers and How to Avoid Them. To make a point at the beginning of the session I introduced the workshop in a very non-credible manner in terms of my attitude, body language, voice and my choice of words. Whilst it was the perfect way to demonstrate the importance of credibility, there were a number of factors that completely surprised me.

Firstly, the woman who hired me was sitting in the front row and the look on her face said it all – mouth tensely pinched into a taut half grin, eyes boring into me willing me to be better or her reputation for hiring great trainers was on the line. She appeared to be incredibly worried about the outcome of the workshop after my lacklustre start; perhaps I should have warned her about my strategy and saved her the angst but her genuine reaction was priceless.

Secondly, the looks on the faces of the participants was quite unnerving. I knew most of the people in the room and they have seen me confidently pitching my business and helping them to add pizazz to their own pitches and presentations. Their expressions conveyed shock, concern, disappointment and discomfort. They wanted me to do well but were embarrassed for me as I bumbled along demonstrating my ‘non-credible’ approach. I could feel their anxiousness as they too willed me to meet their expectations of a dynamic presenter and trainer.

But the biggest surprise to me was my own response to their reactions. I am generally poised and self-assured in front of an audience, my skills of engagement honed through many years of performing, presenting and training. I called on my acting skills to get into the zone of a non-credible trainer and it worked; I could immediately feel and see the difference in the reaction of participants. What I didn’t expect was to feel nervous doing it! I knew I was acting, and I knew I was going to call ‘time out’ after the first few sentences before starting again in a credible manner. However, my nerves were feeding off not only the energy of my audience who were obviously tense and uneasy about how the session was going to pan out, but intensifying as a result of my own destructive thoughts, awkward body language and negative words and phrases.

I found myself displaying all of the classic symptoms of nerves – thumping heart, shaking voice, red face and an overwhelming desire for the floor to open up and swallow me. I got to the point that I wasn’t actually ‘acting’; I could sense any credibility I may have had was quickly being evaporated! Once I had called ‘time out’ and said I was going to start again it took a concerted effort to shake off those feelings and communicate in my usual confident and credible style.

It strongly highlighted to me the importance of having a positive attitude and using body language, voice and words from the beginning to establish not only credibility but confidence as well. A positive and interested response from an engaged audience helps to perpetuate the required poise but supplementing it with confident body language and a positive mindset can also can affect our body chemistry which makes us feel confident generally. By adjusting my attitude, stance and gestures I was ultimately able to stimulate the required confidence and credibility from within. But it was much harder than if I had walked into the room with that inner strength intact from the start of the session.

In a future post I’ll be looking at five areas that can reduce your credibility and what to do about it. In the meantime, I would value your comments about this post. Have you been in a situation where an audience unnerved you unexpectedly? What are your tips for managing it?

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