How To Use Presentation Anxiety To Your Advantage

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My current rabbit hole of interest for some time has been human evolutionary behaviour, both biological and psychological. To have a rounded understanding of how we humans work, it’s important to understand both the body and the brain.

Public Speaking Anxiety

Growing up with a stutter, I am well positioned to talk about this. At school it always made me wonder why anybody without a stutter would be nervous when talking. After all, they had nothing to worry about. They weren’t about to get stuck on a word and be embarrassed in front of the whole class. 

Nevertheless, later in life I learned it was not only people with speech impediments who are nervous to speak in public. According to surveys, around 3 in 4 people have public speaking anxiety, which also equates to my anecdotal experience being around business presenters over the years.

My Public Speaking Journey in Business: The First Time

I clearly recall the first time I had to speak in public in front of a group of people. It was a global management meeting with approximately 50 attendees while I was still a relative junior. All I had to do was stand up and introduce myself.

If you do not already know, stutterers tend to get stuck on certain letters or sounds. My triggers were the hard G and M. Which was incredibly unfortunate bearing in mind my name. 

As soon as I knew I would have to do this, my stomach began churning and heart rate raced. As everybody around the table stood up and introduced themselves, my heart raced faster as my turn approached.

Overcoming Obstacles Makes You Stronger

I knew I had no choice. I knew I had to do this. And I knew I would do this no matter what happened. As my turn neared, I tried with all my might to slow my breathing, to try and calm my racing heart. But I simply could not. My body was in overdrive which was increasing my internal anxiety even more.

I stood up, I got stuck on my name, but I managed to overcome it with an “uhmmmm, Gary” (a good stutterers tactic) for what felt like an hour as time slowed and all eyes were on me. I said my piece which lasted 30 seconds, and sat down.

My face was flushed red and the sweat was running down my back. But I got through it and moved onto the next few years of anxiety making longer presentations and beating my demons with each presentation made.

Presentation Anxiety = Fight or Flight

To begin to control those nerves and feelings of anxiety before a presentation, it’s useful to understand what is happening to your body on a chemical level. Once again I will talk in extremely basic terms about what is happening, and for sure there is more to it. But these basics will help you understand why your body goes into overdrive without overwhelming you with science.

Put simply, your body goes into fight or flight mode. For sure you would have heard this terminology before, and many of you will understand what it means. 

It is a survival instinct ingrained into us. It has been essential for human survival and expansion to what we are today. It is also arguably one of the reasons there is such a health crisis of stress in these modern times, as our brains are overwhelmed with things that make us “stressed” on a daily basis.

Ancestral vs Modern Times

When we were living in tribes, if there was a predator animal nearby, we needed all of our focus to be on surviving that threat. Adrenaline is pumped through the body, whilst all non-essential systems inside the body such as your digestive system are shut down. This allows the body and brain to fully focus on the threat and danger close at hand.

The anxiety you feel before a presentation is exactly the same system. It is your body pumping adrenaline to get you ready for the danger at hand. The only difference in this case is the danger is not life threatening. But your body does not know this. All it can sense is impending doom, and it’s that sense which floods your body with adrenaline to ramp up your heart rate, and prepare you to fight or run for your life.

How To Use That Knowledge to Reframe Your Presentation Anxiety

Now you know this is your body doing what your body is supposed to do. You can use that knowledge to reframe the:

  • “feeling of anxiety” to “a chemical reaction for your body to perform at its best.”

By reframing the feeling and knowing this is precisely how you are supposed to feel, you can enter the presentation knowing your body is fully primed and ready to present.

Rewire Your Predictive Brain To Foresee Success

Our brains are prediction machines. There is simply too much information around our sensory systems for our brains to continually process every single thing we see, hear, smell and touch. Therefore, the brain uses its previous knowledge of everything it’s ever seen, to predict what it expects.

If you extrapolate that fact further, you can understand how anxiety can make you predict your presentation could be a disaster. Which further extenuates anxiety even deeper.

By reframing these thoughts to believing scientifically that the adrenaline you are feeling around your body is a chemical reaction priming you to be at your pinnacle performance, you also change your brain to predict your presentation will be a massive success. 

Your predictions of positivity will manifest itself in reality. And assuming you have put in the preparation and work, you will finish a killer presentation which everybody will enjoy.

Resources

Modern Wisdom, Chris Williamson is the master of discussion when it comes to human evolutionary behaviour. Many of his podcasts have discussions on this topic with great experts.

The Jordan Harbinger Show is another podcast with incredible guests and interviews. In episode 887; How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality, Jordan speaks to Andy Clark who is cognitive philosophy professor at the university of Sussex about the predictive brain and how it functions to help us navigate everyday life. 

The Genius Life with Max Lugavere who talks to many experts on his show with regards to everything around health and how to live your best life. In episode 349 he talks to Max Gutman about anxiety and panic attacks, and most importantly, how to embrace and control them. He is the author of No Time To Panic: How I Curbed My Anxiety and Conquered a Lifetime of Panic Attacks.

By learning about how our bodies and minds work, we can understand ourselves better and have more control over matters that often feel out of our control.

Important matters to reduce the stress inside of us, which will help us live longer and live stronger.

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