Using Stage Fright and Anxiety to Improve Presentations.


Alignment of substance and style

But I… never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it”. ~Mark Twain

It is natural to feel apprehension before speaking in front of a group, this is called “stage fright” . At the root anxiety and fright is all about some kind of irrational thinking, such as “perfectionism” or fear of failure”   which triggers your anxiety. Perfectionism can drive insecurity. And on the other hand if you adjust your thinking about the need to be “perfect” you can be energize and inspire your self up to a point, but too much concern can lead to a drop in performance.

A certain level of anxiety is actually necessary for you to perform your best. The key is to use this anxiety to your advantage, harnessing it to make your style more dynamic and animated. The physical symptoms of anxiety are very similar to that of excitement. If you can train yourself to interpret your symptoms as excitement, instead of being nervous, you are well on your way to using the anxiety to your advantage. So, how do you do this?

Controlling Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety
1. Avoid negative self-talk. For example, do not use phrases like, “They won’t listen. They’ll be hostile.” Talk like this is not only self-defeating, but it is self-fulfilling. Tell yourself instead that you will succeed. Tell yourself, “I’ve done my research. I’m prepared. I am well practiced.” These kind of statements are also self-fulfilling–in a positive way.

2. Don’t exceed your time limits for a topic. Know how much time you have been allotted and then keep to the schedule. Carefully preparing your material will allow you to cover the topic well, but also selectively customize it for your audience needs. It takes longer to say something than it does to read something. The best way to make sure you do not run over time is to follow the suggestions in step 3.

3. Practice and prepare. Practice and prepare. Once your presentation material is prepared, it is time for you to prepare. Practice is the key to feeling confident. There are several ways to do this.

–Practice with an audio or video tape. Play it back to catch mistakes you might have made. This will help you catch distracting idiosyncrasies such as touching your hair, playing with your rings, standing with your hands in your pockets, or using fill-speech like saying “you know” or  “um” over and over again.

–Practice in front of a mirror. Remember to practice what you do with your hands and arms. If you use gestures when you speak, make sure they are natural and not overdone.

–After you have practiced on your own, it is good to get an “audience” to watch your presentation and provide concrete feedback on what is good, what needs to be drop or where you need improvement. An audience can be just one other person, but the more feedback you get from different perspectives the higher the likelihood of connecting and engaging your future audience. Getting constructive feedback usually results in changes that will improve your delivery and content.

–If you are trying to persuade your audience to your viewpoint, ask a friend to give you some opposing viewpoints to get a sense of what your audience may be thinking as they hear your presentation. Understanding opposing viewpoints is especially important if you allow questions after the presentation.

4. Know and read your audience. Your presentation must correlate to your audience’s interests or you will lose them. Knowing your audience will also give you a positive, confident attitude about speaking with them and provide opportunities to improvise the content to make it more relevant to audience members.   Be quick on your feet and don’t get locked in to just what you want to say by being an active listener.

5. Visualize yourself succeeding. Do not just tell yourself that you will do well; picture yourself doing well! Take a deep breath, close your eyes and imagine yourself walking to the front of the audience with your shoulders back and a smile on your face. See yourself speaking while the audience nods with approval, laughs at your spontaneous humor and applauds when you finish. Carry that successful mental image with you when it is time for you to present.

6. Fake it until you make it. Your audience will not know how nervous you are. They will only know what you show or tell them. Regardless of how you feel inside, act confident. Acting confident can actually make you feel confident.

7. Don’t stress over what “could have been” or “should have been. Leave the presentation behind once you have finished. Allow yourself five minutes to review the “smiley” sheets and reflect on what you could have done differently, then move on. Plan constructively for your next project. Set some goals and take what you learned to make the next one even better. A good evaluation tool for yourself is to talk with members of the audience after the presentation and ask for feedback on worked and what you could do better the next time.  After all, it was for them you did the presentation.


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