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Getting Over Your Nerves

4 Jun 2018

Do you feel nervous or anxious when speaking in front of people?

Public speaking is the biggest fear out there according to some – even more than a fear of death. In his blog, Speakers Trust trainer Hari Kalymnios tells us about some of the ways to get over your nerves and anxiety when speaking in public.

He says that like most things, practise will naturally be one of the best ways to help you manage your nerves, but if you find yourself in a room full of people and you can’t remember what you were going there is reason and science behind your nerves.

Hari tells us that nerves are to do with your three brains. Three brains!? Yes. You might think you just have one. Or perhaps two (a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere). In actual fact you have three brains. All wrapped up into one.

They go by different names but here’s how he describes them. Nice and simply.

  1. Primal

The primal part of the brain is the part that formed first. It is responsible for your basic life survival and development functions. Heartbeat, hunger, defending territory, breathing, fight or flight response, body temperature, balance. Some other experts might call this the reptilian (R-complex), lizard or dinosaur brain. I like to call it the primal part. It’s all about survival

Next up we have the…


  1. Passion

The passion part of the brain is also known as the limbic system. Responsible for mood, memory, hormone control and similar such features. It’s what we share with other mammals.  Dogs, cats, horses and mice even. The main structures of the passion part (limbic brain) are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus.

Finally we have the…


  1. Person

The person part of the brain is what is unique to us humans and some other primates. It’s also thought of as the pre-frontal cortex, parietal lobe and executive function. With this person brain, primates and us humans can do things that horses and cows cannot, like complex social interactions and advance planning (such as planning an attack on a neighbouring troop, human language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness). And also, in the case of us humans, public speaking. Or taking exams. Complex problem solving.


Here’s the thing though, and why understanding about the three brains is pivotal to get over anxiety and nervousness.

When we were evolving and were out roaming the savannahs of Africa, if we encountered a sabre tooth tiger we would enter a fight or flight mode (most likely flight, or possibly even freeze). We just want to SURVIVE. That’s the number one priority. We don’t need to speak to the sabre tooth tiger and say: “Please Mr Tiger, don’t eat me today. I’m not very tasty.”

No, of course not. We need to RUN! Climb a tree or rock, jump into a river, or get as far away as possible. All our blood diverts to places that need focus. Like our legs, heart (not our stomachs – hence why you shouldn’t eat while stressed). In terms of the brain, the blood flow goes to the primal part of the brain. Away from the person part. Because it’s all about survival.

Here’s the thing though. If you’re starting to get nervous before speaking, you start to enter that fight or flight phase. You blood flow goes from the person brain to primal brain.

You think you have a room full of sabre tooth tigers staring at you in the face. When you don’t of course. But your primal brain thinks so. This means you feel like you can’t string a sentence together.

So how do you get blood flow from the primal back to the person part of the brain?

You breathe

But not into the upper chest or through the mouth like most people breathe day to day. Take deep, slow breaths into the diaphragm. Think about it as “belly-breathing”. Breath so that your belly expands first. Breath in through your nose. Breath out longer than you inhale.

This will start to get blood flowing from the primal brain back to the person brain. And then you will be able to speak clearly again. Do this before you get in front of people. Or before an important event like a presentation, speech or an exam. It will make a difference.

To book your “Speak Out” Challenge! public speaking training please email jpspeakout@speakerstrust.org