A few years ago, I tried my hand at stand up comedy. The opportunity came about somewhat serendipitously, and it was an opportunity for me to tick off one of my childhood bucket list items. At the point of agreeing to do it, I was overwhelmed with giddy excitement and immediately set about creating my set.
Two things then happened; firstly, it became aggressively apparent that trying to write 'comedy' was a world apart from being 'off-the-cuff' funny with your mates down the pub. Secondly, the giddy excitement quickly turned to massive anxiety as the realisation dawned on me that in a few weeks, I was going to stand in front of an audience of strangers, and try to make them laugh. What the f#@$ had I done?
Those two weeks were awful. I barely slept, and when I did manage to drift off, my dreams were inundated with images of 'dying on stage'. When the day of the gig arrived, I'm pretty sure I didn't talk to a single person. Even my fiancee, Vikkie, who drove me to the Coventry venue, was unable to get a sustained conversation out of me.
I remember, vividly, sitting at the back of the auditorium, heart beating like a pneumatic drill, hands clammy and shaking, sweating and utterly petrified. So much so, that I whispered to Vikkie, "I can't do this! You are going to have to make an excuse for me. I'm off!"
She gently squeezed my hand and said, "You'll be brilliant, Mark, don't worry. I love you."
Ha! What did she know? She wasn't the one about the go on stage to die a horrifically embarrassing comedic death!
In the next moment, the lights came up, and I heard a voice announce,
"Please welcome to the stage, Mark Holmes!"
Through a subdued round of applause (which I couldn't hear anyway!), I gingerly, and somewhat robotically, walked through the central aisle, and climbed the four steps onto the stage. I looked out across the 300 strong crowd and took a deep breath...and uttered the first word.
Without a doubt, the most common question, people attending our Presence workshop, ask us is, 'How do you manage your nerves?'
It makes me think of another question, "What is better or worse, the anticipation of something, or the thing itself?
Nerves are good! They show we care about what we are about to do, that we are passionate about it, that doing well is important to us. The challenge is channelling them so that they harbour a positive emotion; excitement, optimism, curiosity enthusiasm, and not a negative feeling; anxiety, fear, doubt, discouragement.
For me, this all starts at the point of realisation that you are doing 'the thing.' A meeting, a presentation, a workshop, a briefing, a pitch, a best man's speech or even a stand-up gig. That moment is an opportunity to anchor all potential anxiety as excitement, all doubt as optimism. It is purely a mindset that we all have 100% influence over. It is down the story we tell ourselves.
So the next time you are about to deliver 'the thing', remember: Stop, take a breath, slow it down, smile and make the safe assumption that people want you to do well.
Following my first stand-up gig, I called my mum, who was desperate to know how I'd got on. I told her how ridiculously nervous I'd been. She quietly and kindly said to me,
"Mark, you'll never get rid of the butterflies! You do have the power the make them fly in formation though."