It’s completely normal to be anxious about presenting. In fact, in many surveys, public speaking is the #1 fear in America. (In one survey, death was #8!)
When it comes to conquering the fear of presenting, people will try just about anything. There’s an old technique of which you’ve probably heard: imagine the audience naked to help distract yourself from the fear. This strategy is not really that effective, and it can be quite distracting depending on how good your imagination is. I want to share some more powerful priming tools.
When I first started speaking publicly, I would use my anxiety (of which there was plenty) to energize me. But as I started learning more about brain science, I realized that I could actually energize myself with passion instead of nervousness, especially because it is far more helpful for feeling calm and confident.
Here are two techniques I use to prime myself whenever I speak:
Select Your Inner Movie
Before a presentation, our subconscious mind can start to fill us with feelings of failure, humiliation and rejection—all worst-case scenarios. To counteract this natural reaction, it’s important to play a different “inner movie” proactively before those feelings even start.
Allowing your subconscious to take the lead can cause you to stumble over your words or even freeze up once you get on stage. Instead, I prime myself by playing an inner movie in my mind during which I experienced success. I pick one that is as close as possible to what I’m about to do, and I do this before I even get on stage. As I’m playing this movie in my mind, I choose the most gratifying part of the memory—whether it was feedback I received afterward, a thank you from the organizer, or even audience applause or laughter during a pivotal part.
I play this part of the memory as vividly as I can in my mind—imagining the faces, the sounds, and the wonderful feelings that occurred. The reason this works is that the subconscious mind (the caveman) can’t tell the difference between what we’re actually seeing in the world and the movie that is playing in our minds, so it begins to calm down. And as a result of this powerful positive movie, the artist part of the brain starts to get more passionate about the presentation.
If you don’t have a positive speaking memory to draw upon, you can use the same technique with a positive memory of another time that you felt confident or had a rewarding experience, and it will be almost as good.
Focus Positively on the Audience and the Topic
The other technique I use, in the same vein of priming yourself before the subconscious mind takes over, is positively priming myself toward both the audience and the topic.
I start by thinking about what I like most about the people I’m speaking to—whether it’s an organization that helps children, an eager group of students, or a gathering of stellar managers. Then I focus on the part of my topic that I’m most passionate about.
Before the presentation, I think about each one in turn, going back and forth between the two—my passion for the topic and my admiration for the audience. And when I step up to speak, the first sentence that comes out of my mouth has both passion and confidence, which is a great start to any presentation.
And One “Don’t”
Many times, a less-seasoned presenter will start out with a negative remark such as, “I hate to follow that first speaker …” or “I’m kind of nervous to be here …” Statements like this negatively prime the audience to expect less of you. Even if they are true, they give the audience reason to believe that you won’t be a good presenter, and they distract from your message. Remember that people are generally there because they want to hear what you have to say and to learn what you have to tell them! They want you to succeed.
Try these techniques the next time you need to talk to a group—large or small—and see how effective it can be to prime your brain to make yourself both calm and passionate before a speech. If you calm your caveman you can energize your audience!
If you have any positive priming techniques for speaking, I would love to hear about them. Or if you have an opportunity to use these techniques, let me know how they work for you. Just comment below or connect with me on social media.