What Listeners Notice When You are Nervous

What they see may surprise you.

Ever stood in front of a group to speak when a case of the nerves blindsides you? Many of us have, and most of us think that whatever we are feeling is obvious to our listeners. We can’t focus on anything more than our own discomfort, and it stands to reason our listeners are doing the same thing.

Running small group workshops on public speaking skills in the past several years, I have gained insight from what listeners typically notice about speakers. After each presenter in these workshops concludes a speech, we debrief to give them a chance to understand the impact they made from their message and delivery. How this works is, the speaker offers their feelings and experience from the moment in the spotlight and then listeners share feedback.

Below is a sampling of what listeners noticed when speakers say they were nervous giving their message:

1. Listeners don’t see the nerves. 

Especially when the speaker

  • shares a relevant, logical message
  • makes eye contact with listeners
  • appears calm
  • is dynamic
  • enjoys their message

What listeners see is at least, a speaker who is confident and willing to connect.

2. Listeners notice but don’t care.

Especially when the speaker

  • immediately pulls them into the message, even though their voice or hands are shaky
  • has a momentary lapse of thought but gets back on track
  • uses energy and eye contact despite the redness on their face or neck
  • speaks too fast but keeps it interesting

What listeners see is at least, a speaker who is willing to do what it takes to connect and clarify their message.

3. Listeners notice and feel uncomfortable.

Especially when the speaker

  • appears needy by mumbling, staring at the floor or has lots of silence while acting uncomfortable
  • apologizes or complains about the moment
  • can’t get out of their head to focus on listeners
  • body appears frozen

What the listeners see is someone who needs help instead of someone who is confident, clear and willing to connect.

To round this out, most speakers who care about how they come across fit either #1 or #2 categories. Although they may have imperfections, they don’t give up. If they focus on their message and the listeners, that focus carries them through the experience with credibility.

Only a few occasions will speakers fall into the #3 category, and usually it seldom happens again. They test themselves in front of friendly listeners in advance of the intended audience for the sake of getting tips on how to come across better. Or they simply take the time to plan and rehearse in advance.

If you are concerned about how you come across, do the same.

Take the time to plan the logic and flow of your content, to rehearse your familiarity with what you’re saying as well as your eye contact with listeners, and even to test your message in front of a friendly, constructive audience. If you feel nervous doing this, afterwards mention it and learn whether it was obvious and if so, whether it mattered.

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On February 20th, 2015, posted in: Uncategorized by