When the Butterflies are in Your Stomach, Can you Speak with Confidence?

As a performer, a presenter, someone who takes communion, someone who speaks at board meetings and someone who regularly steps into uncomfortable circumstances, I get butterflies. And because that sensation regularly takes me back to how I felt the very first time I ever took a risk, at first, I begin to feel nauseous. And it’s not just me. It’s all of us.

When you stand up in front of people and open your mouth, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Public speaking involves risk. So aiming for zero fear is unrealistic.Olivia Mitchell, public speaking guru.


Our bodies adapt well to moments of fear – they send us signals of adrenaline coursing through our bodies to support us and give us energy to overcome the risk at hand. If only we just realize it.

Our bodies can’t tell the difference between anxiety and excitement. And neither can we, if we are relying on our bodies to signal us for fear or joy. Yet once we realize that butterflies happen in each case – both with fear as well as with joy; with anxiety as well as with excitement – we can then begin to speak with confidence.

When fear overtakes us we often get emotionally overwhelmed. We lose our ability to think, make poor choices, don’t use logic and stumble over ourselves. Yet the simple moment of realizing that fear and excitement have the same signals, and with excitement we have more control than with fear, we may more readily take a step back to become objective.

Through our objectivity we can create a mental checking-off of key points: Have I created a plan? Am I ready to use it? Can I relax into having faith in what I know?

Yes, we can speak with confidence at the podium, on the stage, with our co-worker or supervisor or direct report once we plan, prepare and rehearse what our plan is. Yes, we can shift from feeling anxious to being ready/prepared/excited about our approach. Yes, we can feel good about ourselves whether we are an extrovert or introvert, a manager or employee, a professional or amateur. It’s all based on our willingness to plan, to prepare, to rehearse and to be objective about the moment.

So in those moments when my body gives me the butterflies, when my first impulse is to recall that first instance of fear after taking a risk, my second impulse is to laugh. I can then slow down, focus, and delight in the fact that I know those butterflies are giving me the energy to focus. To deliver. To connect and to make the impact that needs to come out of the moment.

Bring on the butterflies!

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On September 28th, 2010, posted in: Uncategorized by