‘Be The Change Room’: 3 Novel Ideas For Beating Presentation Anxiety

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As a truly spazzy stage fright sufferer, I deeply emphasize with nervous clients who are about to make presentations or go on-camera. In the tenth grade, all music and drama students at my school were forced to try out for a production of Annie by singing ‘Tomorrow’ in front of the teacher and a few student adjudicators. My audition ended in wracking on-stage sobs after a mere one or two shaky bars. I was crying so hard that my sniffles and choke-sounds were reverberating in the Suddenly Most Uncomfortable Auditorium In The World. That’s me.

I can travel from 0 to 100 on the anxiety-meter in less than 10 seconds.

I’m one of those violent blushers who probably makes people wish they could offer me cool washcloths to daub my cheeks with. If I even notice myself talking too much, my head turns into a toaster oven. Which is a big problem, because I’m also compulsively talkative.

Anyway, if I’m in a situation where I suddenly realize I am PRESENTING MYSELF, all bets are off. The fear kicks in and I find myself wondering—no, begging to understand—why am I doing this? Because there was always a reason. There is always a reason. But the fearfulness makes me forget. If I can manage to remember—and depending on the acuteness of my anxiety, that’s sometimes a pretty big ‘if’—then I might be able to soothe myself enough to enter into the experience mindfully. Then I might be able to rationally, peacefully, and whole-heartedly secure my desired outcome.

1. Remember Why

This is why I really like helping my clients to remember why. Why are you doing this? Why are you ‘standing there’? Why are you making a record of these words? What is the purpose of your presentation, your video, your speech? How does that purpose then direct and shape your experience? Does it cause you to hold your body differently, or select particular words, or feel certain emotions? You have chosen to accept a ‘communications mission’, so what is your objective?

Remembering why has a terrifically significant impact on the way you will execute your ‘communications missions’. If you are speaking from a witness box in a court of law, a contained or cool presentation may be in order. However, if you have chosen to accept the ‘communications mission’ that most of my clients have, then a good dose of your natural emotions will likely bring you closer to the goal. And what is the goal? If you are like most of my clients, your goal is to create an experience whereby your future customers or supporters can easily imagine what it would be like to be with you, learn from you, or align themselves with what you are doing in the world.

2. A Dress Rehearsal, A Change Room & A Client Drawing Near

A potent article of communication like a video functions as a dress rehearsal for a prospective client who needs understand what it would be like to work with you. It gives her an immersive experience of you from the safety and privacy of her own imagination, where nobody can actually hound her to make a purchase. In essence, you are creating a lovely, quiet, lockable change-room of the mind where she tries things on at her leisure without any salespersons breathing down her neck.

Groundbreaking scientific studies have shown us how thoroughly a listener can empathically experience what you describe when you recount personal stories with rich sensory and emotional detail. As a speaker, you can actually cause the brain activity of your listeners to mirror your own. Storytelling and your natural, genuine affect (ie. how your emotions typically animate your expressions, voice, and body language) can allow a prospective client to get as close to you as possible without actually being vulnerable to you in any way—because all the vulnerability is yours during this kind of communication experience. This ‘dress rehearsal’ or ‘change room’ like experience can give the emotion-driven decision-making regions of your future client’s brain enough information to proceed with a concrete action: calling you, signing up for a newsletter, or making an appointment. She has a very good idea of what future experiences of you, your services or products, or the-you-that-your-services-or-products-represent will feel like. And she would like more of that feeling.

3. Brave Your Anxiety To Soothe Theirs

Is all of this a long-winded way of saying ‘be yourself’? I suppose so. I am compulsively talkative.

Besides, you might be saying, ‘being myself’ on stage or when I’m being filmed for a video does mean melting down, behaving awkwardly, or acting embarrassed. That’s how I act when I’m PRESENTING MYSELF. That’s actually just me being AUTHENTIC.

Well, ok. Fair enough. But that’s only if you perceive your communications mission as beginning and ending on that stage or in front of that camera. But it doesn’t end there. It completes itself in the empathic minds of your best future clients, partners, fans, and supporters. When you really communicate with people, are you freaking out or melting down? Probably not. Because ‘being heard’ is actually a mighty pleasant experience. So when you’re making that video or delivering that speech, remember that you’re not really PRESENTING—you are COMMUNICATING. This is happening, even if you can’t immediately gauge the response of your listeners because they’re hanging out elsewhere on the ole space-time continuum.

Finally, you need to understand that the flip side of your heightened anxiety—the result of feeling alone or singled out as a ‘presenter’—is the lowered anxiety levels of your listeners or viewers. While you are presenting, they are able to deeply experience you without any threat of confrontation or demand for interaction. This is awesome! You have created the perfect conditions for your best clients to begin liking and trusting you, because you are giving them a truly immersive experience of yourself without demanding anything from them in return.

So before you take the stage or open your mouth to speak, spend a few minutes thinking about your why, letting that why prepare you, and remembering that it’s all about your listeners. And if you still proceed to bite the dust, melt down, or let the fear get the best of you, let the immortal words of that little orphan Annie be a comfort to you. The sun will come out tomorrow.

[Author: Kristin van Vloten]

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November 28, 2014

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