I can’t teach with a pen or a dry erase marker in my hand. I know that if I’m holding either of those objects, I’ll be clicking the pen or snapping the marker cap on and off, on and off. So I make sure I always teach without anything in my hands so I don’t fidget.
We’ve all seen speakers who twirl their hair, click a pen, twist a ring, chew gum incessantly, or rock side to side. These are all forms of fidgeting. The trouble with fidgeting is that we don’t usually have conscious awareness that we are doing it, but our audience picks up on it right away. It’s not going to make or break your presentation, but it can affect the way the audience sees you or it can distract them from your message. Let’s look at a couple reasons why we fidget and how to stop fidgeting.
Why You Fidget
Below are two of the most common reasons you might be tempted to fidget during a presentation.
- Nervousness. Public speaking is consistently one of the top fears people have, so it’s no wonder that we fidget when we present. Being in front of an audience might cause a stress response. We then use fidgeting as a way to cope with that stress, meaning we fidget to self-soothe. In recent years the toy market has exploded with self-soothing ,fidget-based toys like cubes and spinners. When you fidget, even if you are doing it non-consciously, it helps you take your mind off of any anxiety you are feeling. It allows you to focus on something else.
- Excess Energy. Public speaking also creates an adrenaline rush for most people. Because of that surge of adrenaline, our bodies are left with excess energy. That energy may make you speak too quickly, or pace the stage, or fidget. This is the reason I know I can’t have anything in my hands when I teach or speak—my excess energy tends to cause me to move to my fingertips. I’ll click a pen like my life depends on it because I’m excited to talk about communication!
How to Stop
Now that you know why you might be fidgeting, let’s figure out how to stop it. You need to figure out how your nervousness or excess energy presents itself. Start by recording your next presentation or asking people who have seen you speak. Once you know how you fidget, you can work to stop it. Here are few things that might help:
- If it’s caused by nervousness: Don’t wear, hold, or eat anything that might cause you to fidget. Think about pulling your hair back, keeping items out of your hands, saving the gum for later, or removing jewelry that is distracting. Addressing your anxiety can keep you from having to self-soothe with fidgeting. So take some deep breaths right before you speak. This will help you calm down and will put the brakes on your nervousness.
- If it’s caused by excess energy: Do a couple of push-ups or jumping jacks out of sight before you present. Or take a quick walk down the hallway. This will help you get rid of some of that excess energy. If you aren’t able to do this before you present, just plan to make some intentional movements during the first few moments of your presentation. Don’t pace, but don’t stand perfectly still either. If your knees start to shake or you catch yourself rocking, just take a few steps to one side. Then a few sentences later, return to your starting point. This simple movement will help you release that excess energy while your heartrate returns to normal. It should only take a couple of minutes to get back to your baseline. Also, avoid having lots of caffeine or sugar before you present which can make you feel more jittery.
While fidgeting might be acceptable or even helpful at other times, it’s a habit best kept off the public speaking stage. I hope you’ll find, as I did, that understanding why you fidget and how it normally displays itself can give you the tools to conquer it.
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