Pitching Tips PT3
Many people suffer from crippling nerves when asked to stand in front of a group of people and speak publicly. It can be the same for actors. But in part three of our Pitching Tips series actress Tessa Morton outlines how listening to your nerves can be used to your advantage.
My tip number three explores my theory about presentations and nerves. Here is my theory. Presentations are a pressure situation. We have to work harder, physically, vocally and mentally, that in itself is pressure, like running for a bus rather than walking, but add to that the self-doubt and the cautious behaviour that surfaces around presentations and we spiral into a paralysis that stops us sometimes even remembering our own name.So why is there the added pressure? Well, this is my theory and I call it: The don’t drop the Baby Jesus Syndrome.
As humans we learn from experience. Watching and doing mostly, supported by ‘well done’s and “try this“ from people we trust and want to please.
So can you think back to your first experience on stage in front of an audience with a good story to tell? Most likely it was that once a year excitement ‘The nativity’.
If you were lucky, had a loud voice and were well behaved you may have a named part : King, Shepherd or even luckier Mary or Joseph (if your mum could provide the tea towels!.
So, for weeks on end you rehearsed your bit and the teacher stressed, pinched and bellowed instructions to make sure her job was done and there were no tears.
Was she coaching you to bring this magical story to life? Was she encouraging you to make your Mary the most memorable Mary of all time? Was she doing a Scorsese and reinventing the story with action and captivating music? Was she doing an Alan Bennett and bringing these characters and their thoughts into the story?
No! She was, with all good intention, shouting from the top of her voice: “What ever you do. Don’t drop the baby Jesus.”
We learned from a very early age that to survive on stage was to not muck it up and the pressure of that potential outcome has become the driver to our behaviour as adults in presentations.
What if the computer breaks down? What if I forget my lines? What if I go red? What if I drop my pen? What if my flies are undone?
All these are human failings that make us human, but God forbid they happen while people are watching. Too much pressure I say. Not only is it not that important to an audience if they do happen... But that increased pressure needs skillful management.
Breathing, centering, and focus are some of the things that an actor is taught. If not understood and managed, that increased pressure turns a very real and manageable energy into something that spirals into an unmanageable and often frightening state of anxiety, stress and mania.
Hearing Simon Cowell say to a petrified contestant singing in front of the nation. “Don’t be nervous, you shouldn’t be nervous if you have prepared properly” only serves to increase our belief that the state of nerves is a sign of not being prepared, of being is wrong and a sure sign that you will definitely drop the baby Jesus and everyone will laugh and you will never bad asked back. All nonsense!
Nerves are fantastic, a part of the territory of hard work, they tell you something new and exciting is going to happen and if acknowledged at the right time they give you an indication that you need to do a few things before you are ready. E.g. breathe, centre, lessen tension and focus.
So, the lesson here is that nerves are good, get to know your symptoms, breathe deeply and slowly, in and out to regulate and to be in control, and if you accept the state or nerves as normal and useful, the pressure is more manageable and you can get on with the job of communicating your story rather that gripping on to the plastic doll for dear life.