The fear of public speaking, or speech anxiety, also known as glossophobia, affects an estimated 75% of all people. When experiencing glossophobia, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, you perspire more, and you typically suffer from dry mouth as well as stiff muscles. Sound familiar? If you are among the 75% of the population that suffers from speech anxiety, don’t worry, be happy; there is good news for you.
Recent studies are shaking up the traditional approaches to managing pre-performance stress. The new solutions to public speaking anxiety are highly effective and easy to practice.
Did you know that stress has been linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, accidents, cancer, liver disease, lung ailments, and suicide? It’s true. Stress can have a profoundly negative impact on your quality of life.
And because stress is also linked to a loss of productivity, cognitive impairment, and relational conflict, it is clear that stress can negatively influence our professional performance as well.
So what is there to celebrate about the stress of pre-performance anxiety?
It turns out there is a lot to celebrate about the stress you experience before a presentation. According to De-stressing Stress: The Power of Mindsets and the Art of Stressing Mindfully:
In the domain of performance and productivity, stress can lead to pro-activity, increased focus, cognitive aptitude, and boosted memory. The stress response pumps hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and dopamine throughout the body, fueling the brain and body with blood and oxygen. This response propels us into a state of increased energy, heightened alertness and narrowed focus, which can help meet the demands of any stressor.
In summary, stress can help you be more proactive, motivated, focused, alert, and energized. Sounds great, right?
So how can you take advantage of the positive effects of your public speaking anxiety?
Instead of stressing about your stress level before your big presentation, reframe how you think about your anxiety. Reframing your perspective on your anxiety can be as simple as telling yourself that stress is enhancing. By celebrating the positive effects of stress and telling yourself that stress is beneficial, you can greatly improve your performance as a speaker as well as protect yourself from anxiety-related health issues.
Lesson: Remind yourself that stress is enhancing to reap the benefits of your presentation anxiety.
You can also harness the power of your anxiety by saying I am excited before your presentation. This simple mantra can transform your anxiety into enthusiasm.
Anxiety and excitement have divergent effects on performance, but the experience of these two emotions is quite similar, according to Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School. When you’re anxious or excited, you’re experiencing a high-arousal emotion, and your heart rate is elevated. However, as Brooks explains, anxiety is a negative, aversive emotion that harms performance, excitement is a positive, pleasant emotion that can improve performance.
Convincing yourself that you’re excited when you’re feeling anxious is simple because the emotions are so similar. When you tell yourself that you’re excited, your mind can easily switch from anxiety to enthusiasm. As a result, you can tap into the power of your heightened physiological and mental states to deliver a powerful, passionate performance during your presentation.
Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement, the study by Alison Wood Brooks concluded:
Being asked to give a 2-min public speech on camera caused individuals to feel very anxious. Compared with reappraising their anxiety as calmness by stating “I am calm,” reappraising anxiety as excitement by stating “I am excited” caused individuals to feel more excited, to speak longer, and to be perceived as more persuasive, competent, confident, and persistent.
Lesson: Transforming your anxiety into excitement is easier and more beneficial than trying to calm your nerves through relaxation exercises. Say I am excited to transform your anxiety into enthusiasm before your next presentation.
Now that you know how to put a positive spin on your public speaking anxiety, I want to give you some advice that is at the other end of the spectrum. Instead of thinking about all the benefits you can reap from anxiety, or transforming your anxiety into enthusiasm, I want to encourage you to dwell on all of the bad things that could happen during your presentation. I want you to embrace defensive pessimism.
Defensive pessimism is different from dispositional pessimism. Dispositional pessimism is the tendency to believe the worst on a consistent basis, whereas defensive pessimism is being prepared for bad things, according to a blog post from Penn State University.
To effectively practice defensive pessimism, let your worries run wild, and think of all the things that could go wrong with your presentation. Then, write down a list of all your worries and develop solutions for each of your concerns.
When people are being defensively pessimistic, they set low expectations, but then they take the next step which is to think through in concrete and vivid ways what exactly might go wrong. What we’ve seen in the research is if they do this in a specific, vivid way, it helps them plan to avoid the disaster. They end up performing better than if they didn’t use the strategy. It helps them direct their anxiety toward productive activity.
When you acknowledge your anxiety, you can outline all of the fears that are fueling your stress. Using your outline of worries, create a list of to-do items that you can work through and check-off to help you prepare for your presentation and lessen your anxiety about potential issues.
For example, if you’re nervous about walking on stage after being introduced before your presentation, request permission to practice on the stage before your presentation. In addition, plan to wear sensible shoes you won’t trip you as you walk on stage. Your preparation will not only help put your mind at ease, but it will also help you deliver a more impressive performance.
Lesson: Put your anxiety to work for you. Identify what is causing the stress and then get busy resolving those issues.
Last, but not least, I suggest you manage your anxiety by letting go of your desire for perfection.
As we discussed above, many people are anxious before a presentation because they are concerned that they will make a mistake during their time in the spotlight. Their minds race with questions such as: What if I forget an important story? or What if I fumble my words?
I want to help you overcome this type of presentation anxiety by assuring you that perfection is not necessary for you to succeed as a presenter. In fact, the opposite is likely more in alignment with reality: you will probably be a more successful speaker if you don’t iron out all of your imperfections, and instead you welcome and anticipate hiccups throughout your performance.
According to Time:
People performed best at public speaking not when they feared making mistakes or even when they were willing to forgive their own mistakes. They felt great and were rated most highly when they took a “novelty” perspective: deliberately making mistakes and then incorporating them into the presentation.
Lesson: Don’t let your fear of mistakes turn you into a robot. People like to see a presenter who is graceful under pressure. If you make a mistake, just go with it; be authentic and easy-going and the audience will love you for it.
If you have a fear of public speaking, or perhaps even just a mild case of pre-presentation jitters, don’t calm down. Instead, celebrate the benefits of stress and get excited for your speech. In addition, give yourself some time to dwell on all the things that could go wrong, and be prepared for a few hiccups during your presentation. Follow these four tips to get the most out of your presentation anxiety.
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