Introduction | Message | Audience | Structure | Physical Aspects | Psychological Aspects
Coping with anxiety
Anxiety is a very powerful feeling and it is, for example, a common reaction in exam situations. Often, however, it disappears once the exam has commenced. Anxiety can often be associated with the question of how we will be perceived by other people, as might be the case in a public speaking situation. This question and the anxiety connected with it might then be the reason for stage fright. In general however, stage fright can occur for various reasons and once the cause has been identified it is possible to treat the symptoms.
Possible causes are:
- fear of forgetting what you wanted to say or fear of speaking incoherently
- fear that the audience will not take you seriously
- fear of making a mistake
- fear of offending someone
- fear of being asked a question and not knowing the answer
- fear of physical symptoms such as a dry throat
- fear of finishing too soon or speaking for too long.
Sometimes our fears and anxieties can be totally irrational:
- fear of a fire alarm
- fear of ridicule regarding your clothing choices.
The feeling of anxiety can, however, be reduced by undertaking appropriate preparation.
Fear is an expression of our emotions. Physical symptoms of that fear can be shaking, blushing, sweaty palms, palpitations, excessive perspiration, a dry throat or loss of voice and sometimes tears. The physical symptoms can also be less specific and simply include a strange or queasy feeling in your throat, chest or stomach. This indefinable physical discomfort can sometimes also affect the entire body.
These specific or unspecific symptoms might then be exacerbated by the way the audience reacts or by your interpretation of the audience’s reaction.
All of this can lead to a complete loss of concentration or even a blackout: We no longer know what to say or how we should say it.
We would like to scream, cry or run away, but we can’t!
Fear or anxiety is not all bad: Fear can help prevent mistakes or slopiness. Fear increases the heart rate and thus also the oxygen supply to our brain – our brain works better. Fear is a normal feeling, the key to success is to gain control over the emotions we feel! It can make you more focused.
The reason for anxiety and nervousness rarely lies in the situation you are experiencing but in the way you perceive or interpret it. The solution to the problem therefore is within our power. We might not be able to counteract fear itself but we can work with its underlying causes and thereby gain control over our emotions and fears.
Fear is mainly related to the perception of a risk, as for example the risk of saying something stupid while speaking in public. The essential thing to do is therefore to find out what poses a risk for you and this can already help you to reassure yourself: “There is no danger, you can proceed.”.
Other ways to deal with fear and nervousness:
Preparation of your content:
The better you know your content, the less nervous you will feel. However, do not learn your presentation by heart, rather make yourself familiar with every aspect of your speech and rehearse it in front of a mirror, a camera or your friends and family and work on your performance until you are satisfied.
Imagine the worst!
Write down all worst-case scenarios of what could happen to you. So what, public speaking won’t kill you!
By doing this exercise, you send reassuring information to your brain concerning the way you can deal with a worst-case scenario and you will calm down your nerves.
A few days before the presentation, lie down and imagine yourself delivering excellent work. When visualizing your presentation, try to remember as many details as possible. Use this strategy with at least half of your real presentation and complete the exercise several times. Imagine yourself speaking to an attentive and passionate audience: Imagine that you are feeling very confident and relaxed and that you are speaking with a calm voice – the words are coming naturallyand you could talk for hours. Picture your audience listening to you, taking notes, smiling and enjoying your jokes and stories…
It is PERFECT.
Imagine that at the end of your speech: People get up, applaud, laugh and whistle. Preserve that magical moment in your mind.
These positive visualizations will create a positive image in your mind and you are less likely to feel anxious in the upcoming public speaking situation.
Be aware of muscle tensions/tenseness due to nervousness(shoulders, neck, back, abdomen) and try to relax:
Relax your shoulders, loosen up your neck (turn your head and massage your neck) and breath in and out deeply. Also relax your face – jaw, mouth, cheeks. Stand up straight, with your feet slightly apart and repeat the following sentence in your head: “I feel grounded.” and feel it in your whole body.
Take a deep breath:
Breathe in deeply to supply your brain and muscle with a good amount of oxygen and your mind will be as sharp as a razor. Breathe deeply from your abdomen a few minutes before the beginning of your presentation to decrease the feeling of nervousness.
Drink a glass of water to avoid a dry mouth!
Put your hands on an object:
If your hands are shaking, do not rub them, do not hide them, place them firmly on an object (table…) or hold tight of something (microphone, pen…).
Look at a friendly face!
Search for someone in the audience who seems empathetic, who supports you or who responds well to you and watch him/her for the first few seconds.
You will feel reassured and less nervous.
A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved!
Tell someone that you feel anxious or nervous before your speech. By admitting your feelings to yourself and to someone else it becomes easier to overcome them and often the person you talk to also gives you a reassuring pep-talk.
Feelings of anxiety and nervousness are no sign of weakness, they are natural! You must accept that you are worried about your speech and how it and you as a person will be received by the audience. Once you have identified the reason for your fears and worries, you can remedy them. Instead of giving in to your feelings, say: “Ok, I am feeling nervous and a bit scared, but this is normal and on the bright side, it only means that I am on my toes and fully alert.”
In other words, being nervous is not the end!
Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
Self-confidence is not an innate quality. Some have too much and others not enough. Low self-esteem prevents a person from taking initiative, not allowing them to move forward. People who have low self-esteem devalue themselves and feel that others cannot see their qualities.
How to improve your self-confidence?
Every person has something they are good at. Start by listing your qualities and your talents on a sheet of paper and also highlight these qualities in your mind.
Practice auto-suggestion: “I can do it, I have the qualities to do this.”
Practice to voice your opinion or thoughts!
‘Force’ yourself, wherever possible, to express a point of view in a conversation, even if you think that nobody is interested in it!
At first practice in relatively small groups or with people you feel confident with, then in front of friends and finally in a professional setting. Gradually increase the amount of people you feel comfortable and secure with when speaking in front of them.
Remind yourself to speak as often as possible!
More practical tips
Put yourself in another person’s situation.
Do not spend all your energy and your thoughts on trying to hide your nervousness, just engage in a conversation. Answer questions or try to start a conversation.
Set yourself daily mini-challenges and little by little you will improve at dealing with those situations that fill you with dread.
Observe your reactions to gain a better understanding of yourself, be attentive and you will come to grasp the emotional reasons that are at the heart of your lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem.
The little voice:
Start by listening to that “little voice” that prevents you from moving forward:
“What will others think?”, “How do I look?”
“I’m not good enough.” ”It will never work!” “I will add nothing!”
The big question, however, is whether or not these negative thoughts which poison our lives are realistic?
Do they help us to feel better and face our fears? – No!
They usually originate from an experience in our past (e.g. perhaps from some childhood experiences). Silence those negative thoughts; silence the fearful or injured child who talks inside your head. Put the adult back in control. Consider the worst-case scenario and place your fears in context.
Learn to say no:
To anchor your confidence, you must also learn to assert yourself.
Learn to say: NO! As much as one can learn/has to learn to express one’s wishes, one also has to practice to express what he/she dislikes.
At first try to say “No” in trivial and harmless situations where you are not ‘risking anything’, then move on to other scenarios and settings.
Practise regularly, like in sports!
Be fair to yourself and accept your flaws. Do not dwell on them but keep trying to improve until you are able to deal with whatever comes your way and e.g. fearlessly respond that you prefer pizza with anchovies rather than cheese!
This would be a first victory in overcoming the habit of always trying to please others in order to feel loved.You will enjoy the satisfaction of saying what you really want. You will love yourself for that.
Persons who love themselves stand up straight, have charisma and a little smile that makes them likeable to others.
To release this aura of confidence, free yourself of the bruised child, the wounded child that you have been. Put away the tools that you used in order to defend yourself , they are no longer suitable for the person you have become.
Find tools which correspond to the person you are today – a self-confident person who is convinced of his/her abilities and strenghts.
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