Admit it, you were a little nervous for Fiona Bruce as she debuted as BBC Question Time host. Softly spoken and calm of demeanour, we all wondered how she would fill the giant shoes recently vacated by David Dimbleby. Having admitted earlier in the day that she hadn’t felt so nervous in a long time, she went on to ace her debut in ways we can learn from.
Few of us can aspire to her modulated tones and rod-straight posture. But we can learn a few tricks in terms of managing nerves and anxiety – something that comes up in nearly every media or presentation-preparation session we lead.
First, her willingness to articulate her worries shows that being nervous is neither shameful nor unduly worrisome. Nerves are generally an appropriate response to a new or challenging situation designed to elevate our performance. The best presenters use them to their advantage. Moreover, in our sessions, those who acknowledge and articulate their nerves are generally fine as they develop a strategy to manage them, such as a simple breathing technique. it’s those who are in denial who risk being ambushed by these feelings.
Second, she seems to have channelled those nerves into rigorous preparation. Throughout the programme the viewer felt that she was fully on top of the topics, the back stories and challenged the panellists with on-point questions. She referred to her notes frequently and was scrupulously fair in her grillings – all of the panellists had a sweaty question posed in dulcet tones. She made her first intervention, insisting MP James Cleverly answer a question, in the opening two minutes. One commentator said it was an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Most importantly, she takes the performance pressure off herself by empathising with the audience. “If people think you are nervous then that isn’t a comfortable watch” she remarked before the show. She followed through on that promise by an showering attention on the studio audience, the panel itself and viewers. Her eye contact and hand gestures were expressive and encouraging when interacting with the studio audience and a little more authoritative when dealing with the pros on the panel. “Fiona didn’t let her own nerves show,” said panellist Melanie Philips. “In the green room and to the audience she was warm, jokey and approachable. She wanted energy, she told us panellists.”
As with her predecessor, she looks as if she will success at QT by doing her utmost to serve the viewers and not herself.