Face your fears: 15 tips for scary situations

Billy Connolly: Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn't try it on. Photo: REX Shutterstock
Billy Connolly: Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn't try it on. Photo: REX Shutterstock

Most of us can tell a story or a joke at a family party, but put us in a pressured situation at work and it can all go horribly wrong. Communication coach Robin Kermode provides 15 simple tips to help with three situations that can give us the heebie jeebies.

Pressured meetings

Tip 1: Nerves tend to make us speed up – so while you’re waiting, breathe in through your nose very slowly for a count of three. Then breathe out though your nose for a count of three. Repeat this three times, which should take you about 18 seconds. In that time you will have significantly lowered your heart rate when you begin to speak.

Tip 2: You will often be shown into a room before an important meeting and offered a seat while you wait. Don’t take it. You don’t want their first impression of you to be struggling out of a chair, so stay standing. You’ll look more confident if you are on the same level when you first meet them.

Tip 3: We often find it hard to listen when we get nervous, so try really hard to listen carefully. Don’t answer straight away; slow down your responses to show you value their questions.

Tip 4: You want to be yourself when you meet other people, but nerves can hinder this. Putting on a public “mask” of confidence rarely works because it often ends up looking arrogant. Also, don’t try to sound important – use vocabulary you are comfortable with and you’ll feel like you’re being yourself.

Networking events

Tip 5: Getting started is always the hardest thing to do – so walk up to someone on their own and say: “Hello, I’m [your name], I don’t know anyone here, do you?” If they don’t know anyone either, they’ll be delighted you’ve broken the ice. If they do know someone they might introduce them to you, which is even better.

Tip 6: If you struggle to remember names, try repeating someone’s name back to them in conversation as soon as you have learnt it. If you get really stuck, try introducing them to someone next to you whose name you do remember: “This is Pamela Smith and this is … I’m so sorry, I can’t remember your surname.”

Tip 7: Have you ever been to a party where someone asks you if you are going on holiday this year? Often they aren’t really interested in your reply, they’re only asking you so they can brag about their wonderful holiday! So remember to ask questions – and then listen to the answer.

Tip 8: Don’t take yourself too seriously: When we see someone who takes themself too seriously, we can’t wait for them to slip up. As Billy Connolly said: “Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.” A little self-deprecating humour goes a long way.

Difficult conversations

Tip 9: Keep the emotion out of it: letting off steam may make you feel better but will rarely help the situation. Practical solutions usually work best.

Tip 10: Choose the right time. All your hard work preparing for a conversation will be wasted if you choose the wrong moment. Choose a time when they are not hassled and have to time to listen to you.

Tip 11: Give both sides of the argument, to show you understand how they might be feeling.

Tip 12: Ask what they would do in your shoes. Would they accept the offer they have just made to you? Ask them what might seem a more reasonable offer to them.

Tip 13: Make the solution sound like their idea. Don’t put forward your solution right away – make some suggestions that will lead them to think they have come up with (your) solution all on their own.

Tip 14: Once you’ve made your case and laid your cards on the table, stop talking. When we get anxious, we often repeat our argument to make it sound more forceful. But this can have the opposite effect! Say it once and then stop talking.

And finally…

Tip 15: On days when I’m feeling tired, I make sure to wear my best suit, a crisp white shirt and polished shoes. Look good when you feel bad – often it makes all the difference.

Robin Kermode

About Robin Kermode

Robin Kermode is a communication coach, keynote speaker and actor. He is the founder of Zone2, a professional training and coaching consultancy and the author of Speak So Your Audience Will Listen.
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