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Episode 31: Looking Nervous vs Feeling Nervous

A screenshot of the title card for podcast episode 31

Join me on The Kerry Barrett Show as we explore the difference between looking nervous and feeling nervous. As a communication expert, I’ve dedicated years to exploring how style versus substance impacts public speaking. In this episode, we’ll unpack the significance of vocal variety and body language in captivating your audience, and I’ll share strategies for overcoming nervousness and handling mistakes like a pro.


Kerry: Welcome to The Carrie Barrett Show, the go to podcast for leaders. Are you a founder, executive, or part of a dynamic team? Then you’re In the right place. I’m Carrie Barrett, your on camera confidence, public speaking, and delivery coach. Each week, we dive into practical tips, Insightful interviews and engaging stories to help you communicate with confidence and lead with impact.

Kerry: Whether you’re in the boardroom or on the physical or digital stage, this podcast will help you elevate your presence. Let’s get started.

Kerry: Welcome, and good morning to you. I am Carrie Barrett, and welcome to the Carrie Barrett Show. We have a lot to cover today. 1 of the things that we talked about last week was that we are going to be talking about the difference between Feeling nervous and actually looking nervous. And you might be surprised to realize that you can [00:01:00] actually feel nervous, But not look at it at all.

Kerry: In fact, most of the amazing speakers that you see up on a stage or in front of the lens, at some point, We’re nervous, usually, when they first start, and those jitters begin to fade out. If you’re not familiar with who I am and what I do, a quick Introduction. I’m the go to consultant for executives and for lawyers, law firms who wanna uplevel their visibility with Effective virtual communication and professional presentation skills for business development, media opportunities, Client attraction, acquisition, marketing. This is whether you are in the courtroom or whether you are in the boardroom. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you may have noticed a post that I did a little bit earlier this week about Visibility and how visibility is attention, and attention is currency, and that leads into business [00:02:00] development, Client acquisition and all of those things

Kerry: except for a few Generally, very rudimentary public speaking classes that we may have had to take when we were in college or perhaps High school. Very few of us have had professional speaking training. Most of us, Our organizations leave it to us to figure out how to be effective . That’s something else entirely. Effective and compelling speaker, which means having impact, being memorable, being relatable.

Kerry: It’s often not 1 of the things that we Talk about. A lot of what is discussed in those rudimentary courses is substance, not Style substance is important, but if your style sucks or if nobody can understand or relate To what it is that you’re saying, that first impression thing, it’s not gonna work out so well for you. Whether you’re [00:03:00] doing A client pitch or you are in front of the lens or you are engaging in some sort of speaking engagement from this stage. And it’s not gonna help you going forward either because people buy into confidence and they buy into certainty, and those things are style. Substance is what you say, style is the way in which you say it.

Kerry: So I’ll give you an example. If you are doing a persuasive speech, let’s say you’re back in 1 of those college or high school Public speaking courses and you’re learning the basics of how to construct a persuasive speech. Usually, they don’t go into how to deliver it, so it’s a persuasive style. They go into substance, which is important. But if you are entirely reliant on a script or if you are awkward or timid or scared, Then it doesn’t matter how [00:04:00] persuasive your structure is.

Kerry: People aren’t going to buy into what You’re saying, and that’s again because it’s something that I talk about on the regular, and we’ll talk about it a little bit more, , but it’s because body language, Style, in essence, punches up and the words punch down. So if somebody is saying 1 thing, but they’re Acting another way , I’m so excited to be here. Which is it that you’re going to buy into? The substance? I’m so excited to be here.

Kerry: Or the style, I’m so excited to be here. Which 1 rings more true? A lot of higher level executives and perhaps those that are higher level in law firms generally are surrounded by people that are there to support them. I’m going to use a term, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but it’s They’re surrounded by yes men and women, and that’s because that is their role within that organization.

Kerry: It’s not the support staff’s [00:05:00] Place necessarily to critique. So what happens when you are speaking and you don’t have anybody telling you, That’s not coming off the way that you want it. Best case scenario is that you end up winging it. You go in without knowing, , what your weak spots are, and nobody’s saying to you, , hey. Look.

Kerry: The emperor has no clothes. And in case you weren’t sure, in this particular situation, you are in fact the emperor. So if this has ever happened to you, if you’ve ever to wing it and you’ve had to do a presentation or a client pitch or present in a boardroom or a courtroom or on camera, And nobody has ever taken a look at your presentation and actually watched you deliver it and given you feedback from a to z. But if this particular environment where perhaps you’re surrounded by people who are not there to critique you but rather support you, which is fantastic, but have let you go into a high stakes environment without a critique [00:06:00] or some feedback Or training, let me know because it is a persuasive issue or a pervasive issue, I should say. So let’s go into,, story number 1, tip number 1. I’m gonna give you some tips on how to overcome and what those biggest mistakes and challenges are if you are doing this on your own. So I want you to get Eyes closed and imagine, envision this environment.

Kerry: You’re going in to make a client pitch, And perhaps it is a team of you that is there to do that. Maybe it’s associates, maybe it’s junior and senior partners, maybe that you and you have your support team around you, and you start introducing yourself to the client with something that goes like this. Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves, talk about ourselves just a little bit. And it’s fairly standard stuff, but there is a lot riding on that. That is, in [00:07:00] essence, your first impression with this potential client, especially With those who may be around you and supporting you in this role.

Kerry: You hear a little bit of a waiver in your voice. You know it’s there because you’re nervous. So you clear your throat a little bit. You try to cover it up.

Kerry: You know yet you haven’t quite pulled it off, and now your hands start to shake. And when they do, The papers begin to wrestle, and they’re the papers that you’re staring intently at as if you break gaze from them, all will be lost. Somehow the words on that page, even though they may be swimming together and you’ve lost your place and you don’t know how to keep it going, Those are the things that gonna turn this whole debacle around. You look at your slides instead, but Be honest.

Kerry: . The marketing department is client acquisition. They’re not Early designs.

Kerry: So the slide is as text heavy [00:08:00] as your notes are, and this is an oh my god moment. The key to overcoming all of that is actually very simple. It’s practice, and it’s practice not Siloed away from the people who are going to be around you. It’s practice with your entire team, and it’s practice with somebody who ideally We’ll hold a mirror up to you, not with a bunch of people who are going to tell you’re awesome and that you can do no wrong, even though I’m sure that’s for the most part true. That is the only way to iron out those kinks, if you will, and to build confidence and to create certainty In your audience because that’s what you wanna do.

Kerry: So the first thing that normally goes when we’re nervous is our voice. We talk a little more With a high pitch. Our octaves go up, sometimes by a few. And maybe we speak a little more Quickly because we’re hoping that the quicker we speak, [00:09:00] the quicker we can move out of the spotlight.

Kerry: I remember my first Major flub on air. I started to race through once it happened. What I was saying is if somehow I could make the show end more quickly than it was going to, and, actually, that’s not how TV works. You have a space to fill, and fill it, you will. So we get monotone.

Kerry: Perhaps that’s the next thing that we do after we raise our voice and we can begin to speak more quickly. We get monotone. We don’t even perhaps know that we’re doing it. It becomes a way to stay safe. Maybe we think it makes us sound a little more in control or a little more measured.

Kerry: What it does is make us sound disconnected to whatever it is that we’re saying. It makes us sound unsure. So there are 5 basic elements of your voice that combine together to create vocal [00:10:00] variety. Vocal variety, In fact, I just did it there, is a pattern interrupt when you’re speaking, whether it’s in front of the camera or whether you are on a stage. And a pattern interrupt is something that reengages your audience and cues them into something that has changed.

Kerry: Whether it is the energy or it’s a different thought now, or we have transitioned to a new emotion or a new Talking point or topic, they help re engage the audience. And those 5 pattern interrupts That all come together to make up vocal variety are pace, projection, pitch, pronunciation, and emphasis. I don’t know if you ever heard I know it was Mike Myers, and I can’t remember the movie. If you know what it is, put it in the comments.

Kerry: You put the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. So emphasis in the bigger context [00:11:00] of a speech means that you know which words and areas you need to highlight. It’s not necessarily about the syllables, But it is about understanding that this particular thought or this particular word is key, Either because it makes a transition or it is perhaps a new element of vocabulary or there’s Something about it, and you’ll know if you go and listen to yourself speak, just speak off the cuff to a friend, You’ll notice where you naturally put the emphasis. The hint or the key here is that where we naturally put it is not Always right when it comes to a very deliberate and intentional on camera appearance or, on stage speaking engagement.

Kerry: So we need to think and perhaps go back and watch And critique ourselves and find out if we really are placing the emphasis in the right [00:12:00] spot to help our audience better understand. Remember, This all ties back certainly to your skill development and your ability to communicate effectively, but why is that important? It’s important because It helps your audience understand what it is you’re saying, what you can do for them, how you can help them. And at the end of the day, Any sort of speaking engagement through the lens, on the stage, client pitch, media appearance, for most of us, For probably everybody watching or listening, that is about client attraction and acquisition. It’s about business development.

Kerry: Pace. Pace is the rate at which you speed. There’s fast, there’s slow, and there’s in between. Generally speaking, you want to Slow your pace when you are listing items.

Kerry: For example, 3 reasons that you should consider me for this project. 1, pause. 2, pause. [00:13:00] 3, pause. Now it’s not a long pause.

Kerry: It’s a pause of a Half a second probably, but it gives your audience a chance to download rather than you rushing through all of the reasons that they should work for you. It becomes a little bit harder for them to remember. When you’re rushing through something, you may, in fact, do it because you’re Highlighting what you’re saying when you start to rush through things. So I sped up as I was actually speaking about speeding up as a way to demonstrate, a, what that sounds like, b, what that looks like. It may also be when you’re talking about the fine print.

Kerry: The things that You need to tell them, but are not necessary for making the decision. Think of it as The speed read on the tail end of a pharmaceutical commercial, where they speed read through all of the Things that could happen to you if you take this particular medicine is [00:14:00] conceptually, it’s the same. The goal is a little bit different, but conceptually, it’s the same. Second is projection, and that’s just how loud you’re speaking. Be aware that if you’re on a stage And there’s people who are a hundred yards away from you or even 50 yards away from you.

Kerry: It’s going to be a lot harder for them to hear you. When you’re speaking on camera, it’s slightly different because technically your ear is where my microphone is, But there is a flattening effect to our energy when we’re speaking through the lens, and so you may need to project Just a little bit louder than you normally would. Go back and ask somebody to listen to a speaking engagement or a video that you’ve done And ask them, can you understand what I’m saying? Am I speaking loudly enough? Or conversely, does it sound like I’m yelling at you?

Kerry: Then you’ve got pitch, and pitch is something I referenced. Our pitch tends to go [00:15:00] up when we get nervous. We start to Speak up here a little bit and everything might sound like a question mark. We wanna deliberately and intentionally bring our pitch down By a few octaves. It’s going to sound unnatural, but to us, the nice thing about doing that is not only Does it convey certainty and confidence, and it’s just generally a little more pleasant to listen to the audience When we get deliberate about slowing down and reducing the pitch of our voice, Internally, it helps dial down our nervous system.

Kerry: So it helps to shut off some of those nerves or some of that adrenaline that’s kicking in, and it has us being reactive. So rather than reactive, you’re deliberately bringing your pitch and your pace down so that you come across as more confident, as [00:16:00] more certain. The bonus is that internally, you begin to feel more confident and more certain, but you have to be deliberate about it. And then finally, it’s pronunciation. I’m not talking about regional dialects here.

Kerry: I’m not talking about whether you say Roof or whether you say wooder or water. What I’m speaking about when I say pronunciation is just articulating clearly. There are some regional dialects that may be difficult, especially if you’re doing International calls or pitches for somebody who is not a native English speaker to understand, and that requires a little more of a deep dive on your part. But generally speaking, pronunciation is not about regional accents or dialects. It’s just making sure That you are not stumbling over your words.

Kerry: If you do, you take the chance or the opportunity to correct yourself And that you’re [00:17:00] clear in what you’re saying. So slowing down slightly, making that conscious effort to lower your voice’s pitch Changes the way you’re perceived, lowers your heart rate. You’ll notice the difference in how you sound. You’ll build that confidence and credibility for yourself in real time With both yourself and your audience. So when you’re thinking of vocal variety, really your 2 primary things are your pitch And your pace, but you want your voice to be Mozart, not chopsticks.

Kerry: Let’s talk about tip number 2. Always to look confident even if you’re feeling nervous.

Kerry: In this particular element, we’re talking about Body movement, and we’re talking about body language. So when I first started as a television news anchor, this was 25 some odd years ago, despite the fact that I was working on air on [00:18:00] TV, And I had 3 internships under my belt. I had a bachelor’s degree, and I had a master’s degree, and I had lots of practice with some Fantastic people in the business, I realized that I still kinda had a problem with being seen. It was nerve wracking to have the spotlight on me. I know it doesn’t quite make sense, and I was terrified of public speaking to begin with.

Kerry: But What that meant, the way that translated to my delivery, is that it meant that my body language was Nonexistent because I wanted to be small. I wanted to be quiet. I wanted to be still. What that did though in the audience’s eye made me look unengaged. It made me look Uncomfortable made me look uninteresting, perhaps made me look a little bit [00:19:00] bored, and that is not what you wanna do for anybody. Who wants to be memorable?

Kerry: Who wants to appear confident? Who wants to deliver information in a way that’s impactful And easy for the audience to remember and relate to. So why does that happen? Why when we are up on a stage or in front of a lens, We know we’re going to be watched. In fact, that’s the whole point of doing it.

Kerry: Why do we get small or quiet Or still or script reliant or nervous or inauthentic. And all of that Ties directly into something that 1 of my friends has coined the caveman brain, which Ties directly into basically our fear of rejection. So to explain a little bit about, Some people call it the reptilian brain, but caveman makes sense because we’re people. If you think about being loud [00:20:00] what being big meant back in the days of us still being Prey and not predators and living with our caveman clan in a cave somewhere, being loud, Seeking attention, being big meant drawing the attention of the predators. When we were out on the horizon, And in this case, in front of the lens or on the stage, if we were big and loud, we drew the attention of the predators.

Kerry: If we are big and loud on the stage or in front of the camera, we draw the attention of the audience, which, again, our caveman brain has not evolved despite All of the millennia that have passed since to understand that the audience is not going to, in fact, rip out our jugular and kill us. We are instead afraid of judgment. We are afraid of failure. We are afraid of Rejection. We are [00:21:00] afraid of letting our team down.

Kerry: That all ties back to our cavemen fear of Being kicked out of the cave and left to a certain death. So we stay small. We don’t wanna draw attention to the mistakes that we make, And our fear of making mistakes is greater in these moments than our desire for success. Our fear of making mistakes is greater than our desire for success. That is something that is often referred to as a negativity bias.

Kerry: It’s designed to keep our Brain. So it’s rather it’s designed to protect our ego. And it is designed to Inform our brain about the ways that we need to stay safe.

Kerry: So oftentimes, you’ll find people Are afraid of losing money more than they are of [00:22:00] making it, the risk averse. It all ties together, and I hope that this makes sense. Except that in this moment when you’re in front of a camera or you are On a lens or on a stage rather, and you’re having a conversation with somebody, in that moment, The caveman brain doesn’t recognize that this is not a life or death situation. So what it’s actually doing is making us look Not safe, but timid and awkward, unsure of ourselves.

Kerry: And if you feel that way, there is a very good chance that your audience feels that way as well. And that is not how you create an aura of confidence nor certainty. So while you don’t necessarily let’s talk about body movement now. 1 of the easiest things is hand gestures. And while you don’t want to gesticulate wildly, you do wanna use your hands and you [00:23:00] do want to use your body.

Kerry: So Start with hand gestures and be deliberate about it. There’s something that I like to call the confidence box, and it’s right here in the middle of your Torso from your chest, maybe down to your navel, and this is where you start. Now there are moments where you’ll reference something that is outside of that. For example, right here, I’m referencing outside of the confidence box, and I’m using body language to underscore what I’m saying. But when you’re starting out, if you’re nervous, Keep the movements a little bit smaller until you get comfortable, but push yourself to move out of that comfort zone And begin to use movements that will underscore what you’re saying and actually draw attention to you and make you more memorable and have your message Have more impact.

Kerry: Think about how a simple movement like Leaning in [00:24:00] can be powerful. I’m closer to you now. My body language is indicating that I’m about to say something that Might be especially interesting to you. It’s the way you speak when you’re in person, and it doesn’t require a lot, but feel free to move in. That camera Or that stage, that is your audience’s eye, and you wanna replicate speaking to 1 person Just the way that you would when you are in fact speaking to 1 person, a friend.

Kerry: So think about the way that you talk in those environments, somebody you’re comfortable with, And you’re replicating that on the stage. You’re going to get deliberate about adding hand gestures And about adding body language, think about an open hand gesture versus a closed 1. Pointing Comes across a little bit differently than gesturing. This is a leveler. It sets the groundwork.

Kerry: It sets the foundation. [00:25:00] Arms crossed. You know these things. I’m sure you do. They’re fairly basic thinking, but it’s a matter of using them deliberately to help your audience Understand what you’re saying.

Kerry: That’s stagecraft.

Kerry: So finally, I wanna talk a little bit about what to do when our brain freezes, and this perhaps is something that is The scariest for many of us. We are up there doing a client pitch, or we are on a stage in front of Hundreds or thousands or we are on a lens doing something live for social media or a media appearance, And we are worried that our brain, our mind is going to go blank or that we are going to lose our train of thoughts and not know How to keep the show on the road. This is something that TV prepared me for very well. There have been Probably a dozen [00:26:00] times already in the course of this conversation that I have lost my train of thought or haven’t know exactly Known exactly where it is that I’m going to go, and I’m sure I’ve misspoken a few times. But TV, live TV has prepared me very well For keeping the show going.

Kerry: The show must go on. So nerves may not manifest themselves necessarily as extraneous movement. We know that This has a tendency to work in direct contradiction of movement, but no movement at all.

Kerry: But discomfort that freezes you, Literally freezes you in place is a tip-off. Losing your train of thought will happen to all of us. Sometimes it happens to me, as I just mentioned, during a livestream. It also happens to me when I’m in the kitchen with the fridge open Trying to think of a couple of things to [00:27:00] let my kids know, what do you want for dinner? And there’s 3 things that we have, and I can’t remember what the third 1 is because I’ve lost my train of thought, not because I’m nervous.

Kerry: They might yell at me, so maybe a little bit, but I’m thinking about something else already. So not nerves, but Distraction or exhaustion, or maybe there’s a mistake on your notes or your slides, or you forgot to Rehearse something or practice it and it’s thrown at you. Now, I remember there was a moment, this was when I was on air at a morning show in a major market TV station, and I completely forgot what I was going to say. I was doing an interview With somebody who was on set, a guest who was on the desk. I can’t remember what this story was about, but I remembered this moment for sure.

Kerry: And that’s what our brains do. They remember the mistakes as a way to try and keep us safe. And I had indicated nonverbally to my co anchor that I had a question. After his question to [00:28:00] the guest. And so he asked his question, the guest wrapped up, and my co anchor turned and looked To me, it indicated, okay. You’re up, and whatever it was that I was going to ask was Gone.

Kerry: Completely gone. And I was so focused on that particular question and hadn’t really thought of anything else that might be of interest, because I wasn’t really listening to the guest. I was just prepping my question. I could not think of anything to say, to ask, To comment on, none of it. So I just leaned back, closed my mouth, and shook my head very rapidly, and it was like I wanted to die. It was mortifying because not just was the guest looking at me like I’d lost my mind.

Kerry: My co anchor was looking at me like I lost my mind. I’m sure the producers and all of the assistant producers in that production booth We’re like, oh my god. Carrie, what’s wrong with [00:29:00] you? And then, of course, let’s not forget the thousands of people that were watching or, I don’t know, maybe hundreds of thousands. It was a big market.

Kerry: So I will never forget that as long as I live. But what I learned from that was not necessarily That’s never gonna happen again or how to prevent that from happening. But what I learned was that I always have to have a plan, whatever it is. A couple of 1 liners, something prepared, a tool ready that I can pull out of my little knapsack and deploy when I need to. In that particular case, the tool was actually very simple.

Kerry: It was just listening to what the guest is saying, and then you can ask a Follow-up even if the question you had planned is completely forgotten or doesn’t make sense. So comics Actually use this particular tactic, having a pocket full of 1 liners that they can deploy to handle hecklers. Their responses, if you’ve ever watched a live stand up comic, [00:30:00] they seem like they’re off the cuff, and maybe sometimes they are. If you have a comic that’s Particularly talented or is very good at playing with the audience, but very often, they have a few 1 liners Ready to go so that they’re never caught, with their pants down, if you will. So how do you Practice so that you can either eliminate brain freeze or lose your train of thought.

Kerry: Side note, that’s never gonna happen completely. But, b, So you have the skills and you have a plan to move the show forward, move the conversation forward when that does happen to you. So my first tip for you is that when you do practice, practice through those errors because they are going to happen on occasion in real time. And if you practice through them, if you don’t stop and think for a minute and then pick up where you left off or Go back to the very beginning. If [00:31:00] you actually just keep talking when that happens, you will learn How to, a, build that muscle memory so you can handle it when it happens in real time, but you’ll also learn Where specifically and what’s going on when you have a tendency to lose your train of thought?

Kerry: Is it when you are tired? Is it when you are distracted? Is it when you’re not particularly familiar with whatever it is that you’re saying and you feel unsure? Is it when you are on a stage versus in front of the lens? Some people are good at 1 versus the other.

Kerry: Is it when you are talking to your team versus talking to your superior? You will notice when those moments happen, and then you can be better prepared for them. And if you’re better prepared for them, You’re able to be more present as you’re actually delivering and speaking and think about what you’re saying rather than [00:32:00] focusing on your nerves or thinking of all the ways that you know you’re going to screw this up. And then the trickle down effect from that is that it has a tendency to reduce The number of times that you lose your train of thought or that you have a brain freeze.

Kerry: So how do you just keep going through? How do you Keep talking when you’ve lost your train of thought? There’s a few times that happens. Sometimes we trip over our words and it derails us, So simply correct yourself. You don’t have to gloss it over.

Kerry: Your audience is going to sit there wondering if you actually did say, Salt Lake shitty instead of Salt Lake City. That’s a true story. It happened to me when I was working in Salt Lake City and a number of other Times that I won’t repeat now. You can find them on YouTube. Don’t.

Kerry: Correct yourself. Move on. If you are up in front of the boardroom or you are in front of a client with your team and you have notes in front [00:33:00] view and they drop to the floor, take a moment. Pick them up. Take the time to get the pages in order. Number them. It helps with that. Takes less time. But Don’t say, oh my gosh.

Kerry: I’m such a collector. Oh, holy cow. I can’t talk tonight. You can make a small self-deprecating joke if it’s the right Time, but if it is super high stakes or if it is a somber Or more stoic topic, that might not be appropriate. When you are feeling nervous is to practice, find, and fix The weak spots, not just within yourself, but as a cohesive team if you’re working together, to use effective nonverbals, Facial expressions, body language, your voice, gestures, and to handle brain freeze as a pro. So not a lot of questions we’re going to be talking [00:34:00] and we’re going to be talking about how to use proxemics in your video and in your virtual communications so that you can replicate the way a conversation might go when you are In person so that you can create as much impact through the lens as you can if you were standing in front of Someone. It won’t be exactly the same, but if you do it well, you can come really close.

Kerry: And then that opens up your opportunities for client attraction, acquisition, business development, speaking engagements to an area that is so much greater than where you may be based regionally. Now there’s a bit of a plot twist. You need to be aware of the appropriate zone for your audience, for your purpose, and for your context. Thank you so much for joining me for this week’s episode of The [00:35:00] Kari Barrett Show. I’ll see you back here next week, Same time,

Kerry: same place.

Kerry: Thank you so much for joining us.

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