During my PhD, I used to pray for a lectern whenever I gave a talk. I could hide a bit that way. It’s not that I didn’t want to share my research: I would simply feel too nervous. Feeling nervous felt bad. My knees would knock as I stood up, my cheeks would flush and my voice would quaver. I’m tall; when my knees shake, my whole body shakes. All I could think was, “I hope I’m not nervous, I hope no-one will see.”
I had grown to build up a strong association with important events and nerves: Something big coming up? Feel nervous Nathan!
I wasn’t nervous for my viva, although there was a lot of the same background feelings. I felt prepared for my viva, and perhaps knowing it was a small audience helped to limit my nerves and how I felt.
I’ve kind of reversed it now though: Feeling a bit nervous? It must be important then!
With that connection I can help myself to not feel overcome. It only came from experience and time: I stood up a lot more and paid attention to what happened and how I felt. If your viva is coming up and you feel nervous, there may not be time to change your perspective completely. But maybe you can plant a seed in your mind: “I feel nervous, so this is important.” What are you going to do?