Coping With Pre-Speech Nerves
I recently read a back copy of the magazine MiNDFOOD that got me thinking. It was entitled “Performing Under Pressure” by psychologist Dr Mary Grogan. The reason it caught my attention was that it talked about ‘pre-event nerves’.
One of the things that has always struck me is that suggestions made for coping with nerves before public speaking invariably did not work for me. The suggestions were normally centered on relaxing techniques. Given their wide dissemination they must have worked for some people but they never seemed to for me.
I conditioned myself to think, “Hey, there’s those nerves again. It’s my body getting prepared to speak and pumping out the adrenalin so I can perform well. Fantastic!” And I’d look forward with anticipation to sharing what I had with my audience.
From the article it appears I may have been on the right track. “In a December 2013 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, author Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School, says we might have been using the wrong strategy to get over our nerves. Although we try to remain cool and composed, it is hard to calm down the automatic feelings of anxiety that are generated before a major event. There is now research showing that suppressing feelings is usually ineffective. Instead, Brooks suggests people are better served by telling themselves they are excited rather than anxious (this is known as reappraisal).”
Brook’s research included people being asked to perform anxiety provoking activity. Those who were asked beforehand to say to themselves ‘I’m excited’ performed better than those told to say I’m anxious’.
In one of Brook’s experiments “…. 140 participants were told to prepare a speech and were given a two minute time frame to do so. They had to perform in front of a camera and had been told it would be judged by peers (these conditions were designed to get people highly anxious). Before delivering the speech, half the participants were told to say to themselves, ‘I am excited’ and the other half, ‘I am calm.’ The speeches were analyzed by independent evaluators, who found that those who had said, ‘I am excited’ consistently performed better than those who’d told themselves ‘I am calm.’
‘Excited’ people were perceived as more persuasive, competent, confident and persistent. They also spoke for longer.”
The physiological response to anxiety and excitement are very similar. If you are mindful of that you can decide if you will respond negatively or positively to a stressful situation. Trying to be calm and realizing you are not can cause more anxiety rather than less. Translating your anxiety into excitement on the other hand puts a positive spin on how you are feeling and encourages better performance.
So when next you are feeling those nervous ‘butterflies’ before a presentation welcome them. Be excited about the prospect of sharing your ideas, knowledge and solutions with your audience. That positive approach will enhance your delivery and ensure those ‘butterflies fly in formation’