This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Assessment & Advancement at The Latimer Group.
My third grader learned a very important lesson at the start of this school year. It was about “the pit”, or “the learning pit”. Her teacher explained that all learners fall into the pit sometimes, and they feel helpless, don’t know what to do, and probably want to quit. But that if they have strategies, like self-talk, and make use of resources, they can eventually find their way out of the pit.
Her class used a drawing with stick figures and thought bubbles to visualize what this looked, felt, and sounded like. Then her teacher explained that this was how true learning felt. It was a memorable lesson for her, and I know that teachers all over the world are using this language to teach perseverance and growth mindset to their classrooms.
I wish I had had this early on in my life.
It makes me think back to the one class that I dropped out of in college… twice. It was Public Speaking. In my first try, I made it through the first assignment – an informational presentation – but in the second go-round, I never even showed up to the first class.
I share this with you because I understand that communicating in front of others, when we are in the spotlight, even with just a few sets of eyes, is hard. It can make us feel nervous and doubt ourselves. But I also know what it feels like – now – to get up the other side and do it over and over again.
Even though the pit was designed to focus on learning, we can extrapolate its lessons to address other moments when we experience self-doubt and need strategies to persevere.
If you are someone who experiences some level of nerves or anxiety around presenting, or public speaking, welcome to the club. Our membership is enormous. In fact, it includes most of humanity. If you are looking for strategies to help with this, instead of succumbing to it, then you are already on the right track.
The first thing you need to do is expect the pit. If you know that the nerves are coming, they are easier to manage and address. Feeling nerves does not mean that you are not good at this or not going to succeed, it just means that you need to use management strategies.
Here are three of my favorites:
Breathing is the antidote to almost all of life’s troubles. Breathing helps us regulate our heartrates, which helps diffuse that extra adrenaline more quickly. Deep breathing is more beneficial than shallow breathing, especially if you want to manage a shaky voice, breathlessness, or a quickening pace, so breathe from your diaphragm instead of your chest.
Start with some small-talk, break the ice, and remind yourself that the audience is made up of human beings. The three words that Brené Brown, the social psychologist, author, and speaker, uses at the start of her major talks are: people, people, people. A little bit of connection up front warms us up, but getting our audience talking can also incite them to be more engaged in the conversation.
Eliminate distractions so that you can be more mindful and present. Focus specifically on the steps that will help you reach your goals. Focus on the kind of self-talk that will help you climb out of the pit, not the kind that gets in your way. And, lastly, focus on what you can control, knowing that it has its limits.
Visualizing the pit and reminding ourselves of what we can say and do to get out the other side is an important part of this final strategy. These are the parts that we can control. Nerves are normal and we can learn to manage them.
If I had known this 20 years ago, I might have stayed in my Public Speaking class and made it to the second assignment, the persuasive presentation.
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