I am always on the look out for easy-to-implement public speaking anxiety reduction techniques, and I recently came across two that I hope can be of value to you.
Anesthesiologists often calm the nerves of surgical patients prior to surgery with medication. And while effective, researchers have been exploring other non-medicinal means of allaying surgical fears. Doctor Emmanuel Boselli recently reported success with a technique he terms “conversational hypnosis.” This technique has the doctor quietly and positively instructing the patient to be calm and focused on the here and now. By briefly focusing the patient’s attention away from the stressor of surgery, Dr. Boselli’s data show an equivalent amount of anxiety reduction when compared to medication.
I believe this approach will benefit presenters as well. In the minutes leading up to your speech, you can ask a colleague or friend to deliver some calming, supportive words. When listening, you should focus on your friend and quietly acknowledge their support and help.
Mindfulness in Action
Recent research demonstrated that physical activities as mundane as everyday household activities –think folding clothes, vacuuming, etc. – can reduce people’s stress level. The study explored washing dishes as a way to alleviate anxiety. Participants were instructed to be mindful in their behavior; that is, they were to focus on getting the dishes clean, feeling the soapsuds on their hands, and being fully engaged. As a result of this focused activity, participants reported less stress.
This research manipulation reminds me of other work that has demonstrated washing your hands after a negative event, such as giving a poor presentation due to anxiety, can alleviate the post-event shame and anxiety that often accompanies such an experience. You literally wash away the negative affect associated with your event.
When presenting, you can take time before hand to do some type of physical activity on which you can focus intently. Things as simple as tying your shoes or folding a napkin should do the trick and help address your anxiety.
The Bottom Line
I believe these two techniques afford some anxiety relief due to the present focus required. By intently attending to a colleague’s supportive, caring phrases or noticing how the warm water cascades over your hands, you no longer fixate on the future, which is full of uncertainty and potential negative consequences. By being in the moment, you have an opportunity to tune out all of the potential future fears. These and other present-oriented behaviors have been shown to help reduce speaking anxiety and enhance confidence. I hope you can find value in some of them.