In these times of prolonged isolation and limited human contact, the video conferencing and facetime interactions that we do have become more significant. Some of us can become nervous before we speak up, whether it be in a presentation, a meeting, or even a conversation (depending on who’s in attendance). And the impact of our nerves is not to be underestimated. During meetings and conversations, you might find yourself mentally rehearsing what you plan to say and how you plan to say it as you wait for an opening. Unfortunately, this impromptu mental constructing or revising distracts you from the ongoing communication occurring around you in parallel. So, you risk missing crucial information. Moreover, when you do speak, you may be more inclined to focus on your delivery, than on other’s reception and responses to what you’ve said. If this has ever happened to you, or you anticipate it might, read onward…
Nerves are Natural
Speaking anxiety or nervousness is basically the manifestation of our nervous system overreacting. The remedy to this flood of nerves begins with understanding. Our brains are hardwired to focus on threats, dangers, and negative circumstances, as opposed to opportunities, successes, and positive circumstances. Meaning that when we are faced with a situation that calls for us to speak up (i.e. voice our opinion, suggest an idea, etc.) we anticipate the potential negative reactions first. Mark Bowden, a world-renowned expert in human communication and behavior, brilliantly illustrates this natural response in his TEDx talk, The Importance of being Inauthentic. This defensive outlook may stem from our fear of being negatively judged and can lead to emotions of shame or embarrassment. It’s highly unlikely that our first thought would be “Everyone is going to love this!” before we deliver our message.
Consider the following…
Reflect back on a performance review that you’ve had. Your superior’s job is to provide you with positive reinforcement and encouragement on what you’ve done correctly, along with suggestions for improvements and next steps. After you leave that meeting, and most likely for the next few hours, will you be thinking about what you’ve done well, or the suggestions for your improvement? The key concept here is that for most people, it’s not a conscious choice. We don’t deliberate in our mind, “Should I think about the positive take-aways or the negative?” Our thought process inherently defaults to the negative. If this has ever happened to you, it’s normal.
There are many scientifically proven techniques to help alleviate the effects of speaking anxiety. Some of them are more micro and circumstantial than others. If I were you, I’d want to skip to the most impactful strategy, and understand how to utilize it quickly. For that reason, and in my quest to create more confident speakers, here we go… The fastest and most effective method to become a more confident speaker is to shift your mindset to “helping”. The common mindset that many of us have prior to voicing their thoughts is the “self-concerned” or “me” mindset. This means that we are predominantly thinking about all of the potential consequences as they pertain to us. Unfortunately, this default outlook prompts our survival instinct to kick into our default to self preservation mode and search for threats. However, if we approach our speaking situation from a “helping” mindset, where we are focused on speaking to help others, for example, we’ll find ourselves much more confident and clear. I have realized the success of this method through personal experience and informal feedback via clients. Although, there is a vast amount of supportive scientific evidence as well. For example, Dr. Amber Finn of Texas Christian University, has excelled in discovering evidence to support this anxiety reduction strategy.
Go forth in confidence!
At the end of the day, we are rarely nervous when we are compassionate, sympathetic, or when we focus on supporting others. The fastest and most effective method to keep your nerves at bay before you speak up is to consider how your words will help someone else. So, identify who your message will help and how, and you may well find yourself seeking out more opportunities to share!