Getting on my Nerves

Delivering an assembly, speaking in staff briefing, leading whole school CPD, lesson observation, interview, OFSTED visit, results day…….endless reasons for the bothersome butterflies to start fluttering in your tummy and to develop sudden speech issues rendering you unable to pronounce a word properly without sounding like a sheep in slow motion.

Ok – that may be very exaggerated but, nerves are as common in teaching as stage fright is in the acting profession. It’s called ‘performance anxiety.’ As a profession, on a ‘stage’ in front of children, young adults and our peers we are generally VERY good at hiding it!! Speaking before a group allegedly ranks in the top 14 of human fears! A study by Bruskin in 1973 and re-published in 1977 showed that speaking in front of a group was the number 1 fear. There was some doubt however about the validity of the data!!

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Nerves are caused by a variety of reasons, but the best explanation is that nervousness is a physiological reaction. When your body is faced with a situation – usually outside your comfort zone, it’s natural reaction is to get excited or to be frightened. Very simply, this triggers the release of adrenaline into your bloodstream. The job of adrenaline is to enable your body to deal with the situation, but the ‘side effects’ of adrenaline are trembling, dry mouth, cold hands, rapid pulse, sometimes giddiness!

From personal experience, the more often I have to present something the more I get used to it and I am fully aware of what can make me feel nervous and therefore I can control it. In the early days of first leading whole school CPD (about a year ago) the school had previously been put into a category with looming forced academisation. Lots of morale issues, disgruntled staff. It was scary and very difficult to put good ideas out there enthusiastically and get buy-in and that is what made me feel nervous. I spoke to the head about my nerves and she couldn’t believe that I was feeling so nervous – apparently I didn’t come across that way at all. She immediately dispelled my belief that I was a jelly like blabbering wreck, which shows that the affects of anxiety are, much of the time, in our heads. Just because you feel a bit nervous does not mean you come across that way! I think I’d be more worried if I did not get a bit nervous!

So, in a situation where you may feel nerves follow these top tips!

PREPARE! PREPARE! PREPARE!
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
When speaking – know your lines! Rehearse and practise. Know what you are trying to achieve! Have your handouts/activities/presentation ready
Be ready for technical hitches – though it might not be as crazy as what happens in this clip! CLICK THIS LINK

TED SPEAKER’S WORST NIGHTMARE?!

ACKNOWLEDGE!
That you need some nervous energy to absolutely knock it out the park and sock it to ’em – get your point across energetically!

WATER!
Have water available at all times during your presentation – take a sip

SHIFT THE FOCUS!
It’s not you as the presenter that matters – it’s your listeners so put them in the limelight.

RECOGNISE!
Recognise when you are starting to feel nervous and breathe!!! What’s the worst that could happen?!

ENJOY!
If you are a bit nervous it probably means you are outside your comfort zone – that means you are learning! I am a very new Assistant Principal – only been on it for half a term but loving new challenges – I think it would be a little unproductive not to have a little bit of nervous energy to give each day a bit of a zing!

Finally – laugh!!! Have you ever made a spectacular mess of your words when you have been nervous?? In my very early days as a trainee in a mock job interview I was supposed to say ‘that’s a hard one’ referring to a question that had been asked. Unfortunately I mispronounced ‘one.’ (Think about it!) Luckily my professional mentor didn’t notice, either that or they kept an amazingly straight face! Oops!

If ‘speaking in front of a group’ is in the top 14 of human fears – us teachers do pretty well! Remember, not everybody can do it. It makes teachers pretty remarkable. Feeling nervous can be annoying, but it is natural – learn your own ways of dealing with it. Harness the energy and use it positively.

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