Rakesh Godhwani
Dec 13, 2016 · 4 min read

“I’m sorry… I’m so nervous”

2016 has been a remarkable year for literature and music. For the first time in history, a Nobel Prize for literature was given to one of my favourite songwriter and singer — Bob Dylan. Times, sure are a changing. Last weekend, Patti Smith attended the prize distribution ceremony in Stockholm on his behalf and sang one of his songs- A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. I watched the entire song and was inspired to write this post.

As a teacher of communication subjects, many of my students tell me that they have a morbid fear of facing an audience. They imagine that they will make mistakes and become an embarrassment. This self-fulfilling prophecy inevitably comes true, breaks their confidence and may scar their lives and careers. If you can relate to this feeling and dread facing an audience, I recommend you read this post and watch Patti singing this song over and over again.

While Patti was singing, she stumbled on the lyrics, paused, sang a few more words, stumbled again and finally stopped.

Then she did something miraculous. She said “I’m sorry. I’m so nervous”.

And then something even more miraculous happened. The audience cheered and clapped for her. Patti started singing again and finished the song to a resounding applause. This was an extra-ordinary performance.

I want you to rewind this clip and pause at the moment when Patti stopped singing (2:02) and said “I’m sorry. I’m so nervous(2:25). Stay at that moment for some time and reflect on the following:

  • It is OK to fail in front of an audience — This is Patti Smith we are talking about here! For those of you who don’t know her, I encourage you to take a look at her website or her wiki page. She has been a public figure and has been performing rock shows for decades. In short, she is a legend. If someone like her can fumble, mumble and stumble on stage and still be counted, it only means that it OK to fail. It also means that everybody is vulnerable to failure.
  • The power of acknowledging failure with grace– Patti is a braveheart. To fail and then to acknowledge it in front of the audience with a smile is not seen very often. And that is why Patti is Patti — a legend with grace. She paused, smiled and acknowledged her mistake. She looked so graceful when she said “I’m sorry. I’m so nervous”.
  • The audience responds favourably to humility — Just look at how the audience responded to her apology (between 2:20 and 2:35). Audiences admire a humble speaker/performer who says sorry if they did something wrong. They know that it is only human to make mistakes and respond favourably in such situations.
  • Make sure you run the course and cross the finish line — Not only Patti said sorry, she asked to start all over again. This resolution to run the course and cross the finish line is very important to one’s self-esteem and confidence. One of my favourite examples of this is a young boy suffering from cerebral palsy, named Bailey Mathews. When he was eight years old, he completed the Triathalon. Closer to the finish line, he fell down multiple times. But he picked himself up and continued running the course till he crossed the finish line. Notice how the crowd is cheering Bailey all the way. See the video here.

I know it is hard to face audiences and talk in front of them. But let me emphasise that there is no magic pill out there to help you. You have to program your mind to get over the fears, learn to deal with falls, be graceful about it and finish your talk/presentation. Tell yourself that if Patti Smith, the legend, can fail on stage in front of 1000 of the most influential people of the world in the Nobel Prize distribution ceremony (not to mention the millions who will watch the video on youtube and mock her in the tabloids) and still be counted, so can I. This is the first and probably the most crucial step — to overcome your fear of coming on stage. In a future post, I will attempt to take you through the process of dealing with falls on stage in a little more detail.

About the Author

Rakesh Godhwani

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A Nobody who teaches, writes, tells stories to his kids, irritates his wife, earns a fraction of what he used to but lives a million times better