When you’re presenting or maybe talking to a colleague, client, or prospect, do you ever get nervous or find your mouth goes dry? Yeah, me too. It’s so frustrating!

If you look up “mouth goes dry when nervous,” you’ll find all sorts of scientific answers for the physiological cause and various solutions that can help with the symptoms – drink water, have candy handy, yadda, yadda.

But a while back, I came across an article talking about this – can’t remember who or where – that provided such a fantastic insight and addressed the root cause from a mental focus perspective. It completely changed the way I look at nerves. You may wonder, “Am I nervous because I don’t know my material? Or I’m unprepared to talk about it?” That may legitimately be the issue, but if it’s not, there is another answer.

We can easily get flummoxed and lose our words or ability to use them fluently when thinking about ourselves and wondering how we’re being perceived instead of thinking about the content and the people who need to hear it.

The stress of thinking about yourself takes your focus away from the others engaged in the conversation and the material you’re discussing.

When you start thinking about yourself, you lose focus on your material:

  • Is my hair okay?
  • Do I have something in my teeth?
  • Do I have a weird look on my face?
  • Do I sound stupid?
  • Am I making a good impression?
  • Are they laughing at me?
  • Am I even qualified to be talking about this?

And when you’re thinking about those self-focused things, you’re not thinking about your material. And the nerves go into hyperdrive.

The fear #IRL

I once stood in the front of the room at our #Q4Live conference, looked out at the audience, and panicked. In the weeks prior, I read about and watched a video of a CEO of a large international company who panicked onstage at a major event and just turned around and walked off.

That had settled into my psyche. If that could happen to him, what gave me the right to feel confident on stage?

As I stood there looking at the audience, all I could think about were all the faces looking at me, expecting something. I had self-doubt pulse through me with the thought that they were thinking, “What qualifies her to be up here talking to us?” When it was probably, “What is she going to tell us that we don’t know or that can help us in some way?”

Because I started thinking about myself, my mouth went dry, and my mind went blank. I looked at Kevin, my partner, and he had a steady look on his face and said something practical to me about how I knew my material and needed to just share it.

I looked back at the audience and said, “You guys scare me.” There was some nervous laughter and some wonderfully welcoming faces looking back at me. Someone assured me they wanted to hear what I had to say.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was focused entirely on myself and my insecurities that had suddenly, and without warning, cropped up. We call it imposter syndrome today. I was not prepared for that feeling and didn’t know how to deal with it.

I pulled myself back together, shared the information, and led a discussion around it. I can reflect now and see I could do that because I focused on the material I wanted everyone to hear and stopped thinking about myself.

It’s impacting your sales conversations

We conduct sales training with agencies and vendors in the insurance industry. Our approach teaches advisors how to have different conversations with buyers other than the typical “let me quote your business” pitch.

And we get pushback All.The.Time. about the conversations. We’ll get pushback during training and again after training as an excuse for why people won’t engage in a different discussion than what they have done in the past.

Of course, we always discuss it to find out why they’re pushing back on it. And it always comes down to the same thing: “That’s not the way I’ve done it, and the buyer always wants the quoting conversation, so I have to do it that way.”

Interpretation: It makes me uncomfortable because it’s different, and I don’t have the confidence to lead a more sophisticated conversation.

Fast forward to a meeting between salesperson and buyer: The salesperson has a choice of leading the typical “let me quote your business” conversation or veering off that beaten-down path and exploring a new way of engaging. What do you think the salesperson is thinking about at that moment of decision?

Themselves. And how they’re going to be perceived.

The salesperson is thinking about themselves and how uncomfortable they are with that new type of conversation. And they panic like I did in front of the audience. Except they likely haven’t prepared to lead this new discussion, so they have no material to fall back on that they’re confident in sharing. So, they fall back to what they know – the quoting conversation.

But seriously, this shouldn’t be about you

For real. The sales conversation shouldn’t be about you and what you can do. It should be about the buyer and what they need.

If a salesperson thinks about themselves during this discussion, they’re mucking up the opportunity to help someone. They’re getting in their own way. They’re leaving valuable information and ideas and exploration on the table that the buyer will never get to experience.

All because the salesperson is thinking about themselves and their own imposter syndrome.

But there is a simple solution to all this discomfort:

  1. Learn your material and practice discussing it.
  2. Think about your buyer and how you’re helping them see their situation in a potentially new light.

When you know you have something educational and valuable to share and you focus on that, you remove the focus from yourself. You remove the nerves. You remove the dry mouth.

And you give. You give a gift of knowledge and insight. Whether they end up working with you or not, you’ve shared and given and helped someone with your new, different conversation.

Trust but verify 

Try this idea out. When you’re talking with a colleague, client, or prospect, do a self-check-in. What are you thinking about? If you find that you’re worried about your hair or clothes, stop touching them, put your hands in a neutral place, and refocus on the conversation. If you’re concerned about how you sound or the words you’re using, think about how important it is for the person to learn this content.

A few nerves are okay. But when someone is nervous and they display increasing nervousness, it makes everyone else nervous and uncomfortable, and then no one is thinking about the content. We just can’t.

When you can refocus on the learning, you open up the possibility that a genuine discussion or discovery can take place. It’s not about you. It really isn’t. It’s about what you’re sharing and how that can potentially impact your audience.

Photo by undrey.