Nervous public speaker? Silence your inner doubts

I often talk about my 'destructive flatmate' who lives upstairs, with all of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and insecurities.

We all have these visitors, who at times do everything they can to tell us why we aren't good enough, talented enough, experienced enough, fit enough, pretty enough and 'anything else' enough.

Interestingly, this 'flatmate' can appear at the most inappropriate of times, like a real-life flatmate walking downstairs wearing dodgy underwear to a packed crowd of media.

I find with experience (a positive way of saying 'with age'), we become better at putting the destructive influence in his or her place, but recently, my 'flatmate' did all he could to sabotage my day.

High pressure moment

Last month I presented the opening keynote at the FILEX Fitness Business Summit. Being asked back to the fitness industry to present in front of my (former) peers was an honour I was very pleased to accept.

Fifteen minutes before I stepped on stage, Nigel Champion was doing the opening address and I had a quick pivot around the room and saw dozens of fitness industry Big Dogs, sitting in the room ready to listen to me.

"Yep, they're here to listen to you," said that annoying voice from upstairs. "Why would they possibly want to listen to what you have to say? There are people in the room who have heaps more success, experience and knowledge than you."

Anxiety surge

I forgot all about that 'honour' stuff and my heart rate and anxiety levels began to rise.

It's normal to have nerves, and the right amount of 'positive pressure' before a presentation gets you in the optimal performance state. But being too nervous can spell disaster. I've done literally hundreds of presentations and know how to control my nerves and be calm under pressure. But the inner flatmate can be very pervasive and persuasive.


So here's how to take control and silence your annoying flatmate next time they attempt to sabotage your actions.

1. Do a reality check

Think about all the positive performances/meetings/sales you have given over the years.

2. Try some 'self-talk'

For me it went like this. "I've studied exercise physiology and coaching psychology, been self-employed for nearly 20 years, dealt with health and relationship issues and still remain positive. I virtually have a PHD in practical experience in handling resilience."

There will be a positive life story for you as well. Replay it and use it as a strength.

3. Slow down

Re-author your automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). Tell yourself you are good at this and all the people who are here are with you – not against you. They want to hear what you have to say.

4. Deep breaths

Take a big breath in and slowly blow that annoying flatmate away.

The dog house

After I finished the presentation a number of people (including the Big Dogs) came up and said how much they enjoyed the presentation. Jamie Hayes, my former employer, told me how proud he was seeing me develop from all of those years ago when he employed me as a skinny 19-year-old kid from Dubbo.

In coaching psychology we learn about 'lag time', which explains the gap or lag in time between when you learn a concept, and when it really sinks in as a part of your thinking.

FILEX was a good example of lag time in action. I let my little voice run rampant for a few minutes, but then pulled it together and saw myself 'through the eyes of others'. This also allowed me to push the destructive flatmate back to his rightful place and to let my practical, in-control flatmate take over.

Stepping up

Sometimes we have opportunities where it's time for us to step up and occupy the space that everyone else sees us inhabiting. But we've just been a little bit slow at catching on.

When I stepped down from the stage, the skinny 19-year-old kid from Dubbo stepped into his upstairs flat, told the destructive flatmate to get out of the apartment (at least for today) and the person I had become accepted the congratulations.

Do you have a destructive 'inner flatmate'? Let Andrew know in the Comments section.

Workplace performance expert Andrew May is a Partner at KPMG Performance Clinic, a best-selling author and keynote speaker. He has spent the past 20 years helping business leaders and their teams improve performance, productivity and wellbeing.

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