In my last post, I used Chief Brody’s character from Jaws fame as an example of how our fight or flight system is triggered.
Its manifestations run from sudden dry mouth, sweaty palms, flushed neck, butterflies in our stomach, and a brain that sputters like an old Fiat rather than performing like the Porsche 911 we need at that moment. These effects can start a vicious cycle of nerves that diminish your confidence and amplify distracting behaviors, verbal stumbles, and overall awkwardness.
If your job requires public speaking, know this: glossophobia (fear of public speaking) is the norm. 85% of people report having anxiety in these situations. The good news is we can significantly mitigate its effects with practice and a change of mindset.
- Welcome to the party: Matt Abrahams, author of “Speaking Up Without Freaking Out” and lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, teaches that simply acknowledging anxiety, rather than pushing it away, can help us tamp down its effects. Instead of panicking as we begin to feel our nerves spin up, adopt a “welcome to the party” attitude: “This is me feeling nervous, and that’s normal because I’m about to present.” It may not stop the anxiety cold in its tracks, but it will help keep your train on the tracks.
- Butterflies in formation: Early in his career, Michael Jordan said that he always felt the butterflies in a big moment in a high school or college game. Jordan spent a lot of time trying to shoo them away until a coach told him the trick was to make them fly in formation. There are upsides to our fight or flight response: it pumps more oxygen into the bloodstream; it primes the body to respond to threats and optimizes the brain to solve problems. If you can get these elements to work for you rather than against you, you may be able to access a higher gear BECAUSE of the butterflies.
- Preparation is powerful: I know it sounds like work, but it’s critical. Practice your presentation OUT LOUD. I don’t know why so many of us resist this simple advice. But we know that it works dramatically better than studying your slides or notes in total silence. Hear me now and believe me later, practicing out loud is a force multiplier!
- Have a conversation: A speech isn’t a Shakespearean performance, and you shouldn’t build it up to be one. If you miss a line, the audience isn’t going to know. If you have news to share with a friend over coffee, you know the gist of what you want to relate, but you don’t have it scripted out. Similarly, in a presentation setting, you know the main points you want to hit, but you might get to those main points differently if you repeated the presentation multiple times – and that’s okay. By thinking of your presentation as a conversation instead of a performance, you relieve some pressure.
- Remember your value: Your audience needs to hear your perspective. They want you to succeed. There’s a reason they asked YOU to speak. Don’t underestimate the value YOU are bringing to the table.
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