Continuing with my theme of the past few blog posts on the nature of the speaking business and what it costs speakers, I’m going to focus in this post on what is perhaps a surprising way to help you cope with stress while on the road.

The stress is real.  You not only have the travel, with all the inherent tensions thereunto, but more importantly – and less talked about – you have the full cost of the adrenaline cycle.  On the way up, it’s sometimes scary and sometimes exhilarating.  Your heart goes into overdrive, your mind starts racing, and you have an overwhelming urge to pee. You may feel like Superman or Superwoman, or you may just be scared.

All of that is familiar to just about every speaker and often discussed.  I’ve posted on handling adrenaline many times.  But less talked about is the other half of the cycle.  After the speech is done, and you begin to come down from that high, you may not be able to come fully back down to earth for hours.  Some people need to unwind by partying, drinking, or hanging out with crowds.  For others, the opposite is needed:  a quiet place, a walk in the woods, a bit of meditation.

Whatever your response to the adrenaline crash, it is important to take it seriously and give yourself ample time to recover without putting additional demands on your system.  Otherwise adrenaline takes back just as much – more – than it gives in the first place and the long-term wear and tear will bring you down in more deleterious and permanent ways.

Finally, of course, you have the pressure of the speaking engagement itself – it’s like a job interview, a day at the office, and a retirement party all packed into one hour.

So for those three stressors – the travel, the adrenaline, and the life cycle of a speech, here are three ways to cope.

First, realize that it’s not all about you.  As soon as you broaden your field of vision to include a wider world than just your own feelings, you begin to realize that you’re just one piece of a much larger whole that started long before you got there and will continue after you’ve moved on.  It’s a kind of mindfulness about the full picture, not just your little piece of it.

So resist the temptation always to put the headphones on while you’re waiting at the airport and spend some time watching the world around you.  Airports provide you with a never-ending panoply of people, emotions, and incidents.  Everyone around you is rushing somewhere, going nowhere, killing time by feeling bored, engrossed in a book or a movie or a video game, saying goodbye, saying hello, becoming lost, becoming found – it’s endless entertainment and a chance to refocus.

Second, find ways to stay connected.  Speakers are too often transient.  How can you ground yourself by connecting with someone new, or re-connecting to an old ritual, place or friend?

If you ask people, some of them will simply move you along in their lives, like the security cops in the passenger drop-off lanes, but others will be interested in connecting in some more real way.  Take advantage of the opportunity when it comes up – follow up with people in real ways, play nicely, and leave a trail of positive emotional breadcrumbs wherever you go.  I realize that’s the extroverted part of me talking, but introverts can do the same by re-connecting with old friends from the road when the chance presents itself.

Third, be kind to yourself.  Self-care is extremely important for all of us in this hyper-connected, always-on, social-media-insane world.  But it’s especially important for speakers because the tendency to self-destruct after a speech is all too common.  So many speakers will get a sheaf of feedback forms, ninety-five percent positive, and react to the one or two negative opinions in the pack.  Don’t fall for this trap!  Instead, recognize your own humanity, and imperfections and realize that it’s your job to share your message with audiences filled with people like you:  imperfectly attentive, motivated, and mindful at any given moment.

So do the best you can and then forgive yourself.  That’s probably the secret to a happy life, too, come to think of it.   

5 Comments

  1. I used to pace back and forth filled with a ton of stress over material that I knew I could present effectively. I wished I had’ve practiced these wonderful tips you’ve given. I was kind to myself. I was too focused on what others would think about me if I messed up or stumbled over my words. Another big problem was my notes themselves. I didn’t know how to write out my notes in a way to help me remember what to say. I used to write everything in a manuscript style, which only causes you to focus too much on what you’re saying instead of the ideas. An outline is what really helped me become a better public speaker.

  2. Great post, Nick! Amy Blankson has a book coming out in April called the Future of Happiness. I think she would give “two thumbs up” to your thoughts here. She refers to a framework called STAGE (Savor, Thank, Aspire, Give, and Empathize).

    The “Savor” one came to mind in your comments about resisting putting headphones on and zoning out. There are endless opportunities that pass me by when I’m not trying to Savor a moment.

    She also makes a statement that reinforces your “stay connected” point: “Social support is just as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking.” Being in front of large groups leads to social interactions but can be a far cry from social support.

    Thanks for all you do to fill us up! Have a great weekend!

    1. Thank you, Andy — always great to hear from you, and always glad to get your recommendations. I’ll keep an eye out for Amy’s book — sounds interesting!

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