Catch up on the first half of the article containing the first four beliefs here: “8 Beliefs About Life… And Public Speaking: Part One.” Geoffrey James’ four final beliefs about life that we can relate to public speaking are essential to conquering our presentation anxiety.
The fifth mantra James says we should repeat to ourselves is, “What I say reinforces what I think, so if something is about to come out of my mouth that doesn’t serve my purpose, I should simply keep my mouth shut” (Source). I teach a public speaking and presentation class to business students, so I’ve seen a nervous breakdown or two. These usually happen on speech day while a student is waiting to present. Students can actually talk themselves out of presenting by engaging in negative self-talk. Both thoughts and speech should be positive; otherwise, you can give into your lizard brain and allow your nerves to control you. While you are waiting to present, it’s best to go over your speech in your head. This helps you focus on the task at hand: delivering a strong speech… but it also helps you to stop thinking negative thoughts.
James’ sixth belief is, “I am responsible for my own happiness, so when other people are unkind to me, it reminds me to be kind to myself” (Source). We can use this belief to help us with a speech that doesn’t go over as well as it could have with an audience. Perhaps an audience member was offended by the presentation and says as much. Maybe audience questions are a little confrontational. If your speech doesn’t go over as well as you planned it, and if your audience is unkind, you must still be kind to yourself. This rarely ever happens, but it could if the presenter doesn’t properly prepare or accidentally misspeaks in his or her presentation. Keep in mind that as long as you are honest, authentic, and sincere when dealing with audience members who heckle, you can feel confident in your presentation at the end of the day.
Seventh, James says we should believe, “There are five magic words that make even the most difficult business situation easier to handle. Those magic words are: ‘Do not take it personally’” (Source). We have to remember, alongside belief six, that a presentation is out of our hands the moment we begin speaking. The presentation is designed for the audience, so the audience determines whether or not the speech resonates with them. We have to take our audience’s needs into consideration above all else in order to plan a successful speech. However, even though the audience is important, we can’t take their reactions personally. What if, instead of feeling pathetic and terrible about ourselves, we can work to take constructive criticism from an audience into consideration without taking it personally? It is difficult, but if we can learn to do this, we can push ourselves to be stronger presenters and stronger people.
Last, but not least, James suggest we keep this in mind: “While there are situations (such as a death in the family) where strong emotions are appropriate, most business situations are not worth even an ounce of misery” (Source). Again, it’s important to remember that even if your presentation falls flat and doesn’t connect with anyone, we must pick ourselves up and try again. The outcome of a speech should not determine whether or not we are miserable that day/week/month… It’s just a presentation! Putting the speech in perspective might just help us overcome our fear and push ourselves into exceptional speaker territory!
What beliefs could you add to the ones in James’ article to help us with overcoming our presentation anxiety? How do you keep your fear in perspective?