3 exercises to stop nervous laughter and other annoying tics

All my life I’ve been a “laugher.”

You could say that I laugh a lot because I find many things funny—which is true—but it’s also true that it’s my “go-to” when I’m stressed or nervous.

I suppose that nervous laughter is better than yelling at people. But sometimes my laughter doesn’t serve me.

The first time I realized that my nervous laughter might be a problem was many years ago as a student in a filmmaking class, I was directing actors in a scene. After we shot the scene under my direction, the teacher turned to me and said, “You’re laughing after everything you say and it’s confusing for the actors.”

Oops.

Not only was it confusing for my audience, but my laughter was dissipating my energy and my power, something a director or any leader must learn to hold onto.

So, your nervous habit of laughing, “umming,” raising your voice or at the end of every sentence or rocking back and forth may be helping you get rid of nervous energy but it’s causing a major dis-connect with your audience. So, how do you stop these physical or vocal tics? How do you use your energy and regain your personal power?

Here are 3 speaking exercises to stop nervous laughter and other annoying physical or vocal tics:

  1. Practice awareness. Most of us are unaware of our nervous habits. So, for now, wake up to what you’re doing. For example, notice when you laugh and get curious: Was the laughter honest? Or was it to dispel some nervous energy? Or ask someone else to listen or watch. They can count your “ums.” No judgement. This is just an exercise to help you practice awareness.

  2. Do it more. Force yourself to do that nervous tic. For example: When you’re in a rehearsal, laugh, “um,” raise your voice at the end of every sentence and rock back and forth more than you usually do. Feel what it feels like in your body to do it. Then, notice the physical sensation you have when you’re just about to do it.

  3. Do nothing. Now that you’re noticing the muscles that engage when you’re just about to laugh or have a nervous response, try to feel the physical or vocal tic coming on and then don’t do it. I have tried this and what I notice is that rather than dispelling my nervous energy, I hold onto it. It transforms into energy I can keep. I stop giving my power away.

You may not ever be able to rid yourself of your nervous habit completely. I’m still a laugher. But these days I do my best to laugh only when something is truly funny.

Do you have a nervous habit that may be defeating you? I’d like to hear. Or if you overcame it, tell me how you did it.