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Does Public Speaking Make You Nervous? Turn Your Anxiety Into Excitement

Written by: Maria Papacosta, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Have you ever experienced the feeling of going into panic mode before you go on a stage to deliver a presentation or before an important meeting of yours? Your hands begin to shake or sweat, your heart is pounding, you feel as if your mind is going blank and you may even feel a little bit nauseous or at least experience butterflies in your stomach. And it’s not just before the big moment that you feel that your courage is abandoning you. You felt exactly the same the night before while preparing, or even two months ago when you agreed to give that presentation. Then comes the little voice in your head asking you to ‘calm down’ and this is the moment when planet earth seems to migrate away from your feet.

The fear of public speaking is found to be a more pressing concern than death, according to various rankings of society's most pervasive fears. Although this sounds a little bit exaggerated, the truth is that most people feel anxious in anticipation of speaking in public. We’ve all been there. Even the most experienced professional public speakers have been in similar situations at the beginning of their careers. It’s perfectly natural, although totally overwhelming.

Most people try to cope with pre-performance anxiety by listening to that little voice in their heads and trying to calm down. Unfortunately, demanding from ourselves to miraculously calm down does not seem to work very often. Instead, we tend to feel more anxious than before as we now feel incompetent to calm ourselves, on top of everything else.

In 2014, Professor Alison Wood Brooks from Harvard University conducted a study where she looked at different ways to cope with pre-performance anxiety. Across several studies, she investigated an alternative strategy: reappraising anxiety as excitement. Her findings are astonishing, as compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better.

The feeling of anxiety is physiologically almost the same as the feeling of excitement. Both feelings produce the same symptoms as described before, such as sweaty palms and pounding heart, however, they are not sensed in the same way. Anxiety derives from fear while excitement is connected to the emotions of pleasure and joy. Once we logically think about this differentiation we can take more conscious decisions about our actions. Public speaking does not threaten our survival, instead, it can help us take advantage of new opportunities. So, it’s not a matter of calming down. It’s a matter of reframing our thinking and turning the idea of fear into an exciting opportunity.

Reframing takes practice to be achieved, so be patient with yourself. Here are some quick tips that can help you reframe your thinking and nail your next presentation.

1. Words have power

Our words and thoughts are the tools with which we create the perception of our reality. Whenever you use any kind of word, you’re not only making an impact on yourself but on the whole world around you.

Use words wisely as they create thoughts. For example, instead of thinking “I’m nervous”, think and tell yourself loud “I’m excited”. A little positive self-talk can have a potentially long-lasting impact.

2. Strike a pose

Standing with proper alignment improves blood flow and helps keep your nerves and blood vessels healthy supports your muscles and helps you breathe better among many other things. The importance of posture in public speaking is far greater. On the one hand, your posture conveys personality traits such as confidence and openness, while on the other, your posture changes your hormones and your testosterone and cortisol levels. To put it simply, your posture affects the stress hormone in the brain. So, stand tall and trick your brain into making you feel more confident.

3. Focus on positive outcomes

Before presenting most people think that they will forget their facts or the order of their slides, and worry if their audience will feel bored or confused. Many are afraid that they will start stuttering or are worried that they’ll be clumsy and trip while on stage. Their mind is being creative and they feel lost in a voyage full of horrible and worrying experiences. Anxiety is frequently caused by thinking about what could go wrong. Worrying that the audience is going to laugh at you is simply not a reality. It’s just your imagination. If you focus on positive outcomes and positive imagery, you will feel less anxious and more excited. Visualize a standing ovation and people telling you how useful your presentation was. Visualize yourself walking in that room standing tall and confident and smiling. This will turn your anxiety into excitement.

4. Be careful of what you eat

The food you eat affects the way that you feel. Having a big fatty lunch before your presentation not only will make you feel tired and heavy, but it will also make you feel less confident. By eating healthy food, you're more likely to feel lighter, energized, and more empowered. Nuts, salmon, and yoghurt are said to reduce stress and anxiety, for example.

5. Practice makes perfect

Practice does make perfect, but make sure not to overdo it. Practice to the point that you feel comfortable but make sure that when the time comes you will present in a natural flow. You need to realize that you don’t need to remember everything by heart. Also, practice feeling excited.

6. Find your rituals

Most successful professional public speakers have developed a set of rituals to turn their anxiety into excitement. They will either require a private space to focus or will sing along a specific tune that makes them feel uplifted. I’ve once worked with a speaker who would lock himself in the men’s room and talk positively to himself as well as take some power poses in front of the mirror. And another one who would take a few pushups before going on stage. It may sound weird, but it’s working. I bet you’ve all seen Tony Robbins jumping up and down his trampoline right before going out onto those huge and intimidating stages.

Instead of trying to combat and suppress anxiety, take control of your mind and turn this energy into excitement. This will enable you to adopt an opportunity mindset as opposed to a threat mindset. You will feel more confident and you will also enjoy yourself more while presenting.

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Maria Papacosta, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Maria Papacosta is a leading expert on Presence and Inspired Leadership and an acclaimed personal branding strategist. Her practical, high-energy talks and workshops provide tangible results that help people design a better version of themselves and excel in their work and life. Maria is the co-founder of MSC Marketing Bureau. Her branding strategies have helped some of the leading thinkers of our time to spread their messages and make an impact. Maria's mission is to help people create a better version of themselves.



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