Three Tips for Beating the Jitters

Posted 08.26.2010

Jitters It doesn’t matter how far you go as a leader, you’ll occasionally face situations that make you nervous. The reasons for the jitters can vary. It might be the first time you’ve led the senior staff meeting; it could be your first congressional hearing; it could be a crucial conversation with a key customer.  No matter what the situation, you need to show up at your best with your confidence dialed in at just the right spot.

How do you get yourself there? How do you pick up the confidence that you need to perform and let go of doubt about how you’ll show up?

I spent yesterday morning talking with about a hundred newly promoted leaders in their organization and this was a hot topic during the general session and during the breaks.

Based on a combination of what I shared with and heard from the leaders about what works for them, here are three tips for beating the jitters when the stakes are high:

Visualize:  It works for world class athletes and it will work for you. Take some time before the event to create a picture in your mind of two things. Thing 1: What does a very successful outcome look like?  Thing 2: How do I need to show up to make that outcome likely? Here’s a tip for the tip. The more detailed you can be in visualizing the picture, the better. A clear picture in your mind of what you need to do and how you need to do it will make you more comfortable when the real thing starts. You’ll feel like you’ve already done it.

Practice:  Which leads us to tip number 2. Practice! Don’t limit your practice to just walking through it in your mind. Get some colleagues together (preferably ones who have some experience with what you’re about to do) and practice the meeting, the testimony or the pitch with them. Ask them to throw you some curves. Ask them to give you some feedback on what you’re doing that’s working and the one or two most important things for you to improve. All too often, I hear smart, fast track leaders say that they’ll just wing it when they get to the big meeting. The problem with that is they usually realize too late that they’re not prepared. When the stakes are high, you’ve got to practice.

Relax:  Yeah, I know this sounds like stupid advice. If you were relaxed, you wouldn’t have the jitters in the first place. True, but the key to showing up with confidence is being relaxed enough to let your best state of performance show through. If you’ve visualized and practiced, you stand a much better chance of being relaxed. 

What tips do you have for beating the jitters? How big an issue do you think this is for leaders?