He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.
There are many reasons why we fear presenting to others: fear of humiliation, fear of rejection and fear of failure are just three of the most quoted top ten human fears. And there’s the issue – they are often fantasized and rarely happen.
Fear has many uses: some good, some bad. Fear can drive us forward or it can pull us back. Embracing your fears and understanding what drives them allows you to overcome them, and (as Aristotle said over two thousand years ago) be truly free. So why are we fearful of presenting?
One explanation can be found in our own human development. Many thousands of years ago, standing in front of a large group of people could have been a fatal experience. That survival instinct of ‘fight or flight’ remains with us. Luckily modern presentations have softened a little since then.
Most importantly fear lets us know that what we are about to do is important. It has worth and meaning. We all know what it feels like to get to the other side of a particular fear, whatever it may be. We feel elated and exhilarated and, above all, alive. So fear can be a way of heightening our experience of life.
Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, famously said, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”. Many great movies, books and TV series are based around Campbell’s principles – the hero must face his or her fear to reach a new state of understanding – and it’s no different for the rest of us. Fear helps us to develop and grow. Embrace it!
So what about nerves? Adrenaline puts your body into a state of alert. If those nerves become uncontrollable they can cause us to freeze, sweat and lose all powers of thought. Here are five crucial things you can do that will help your nerves work for you and not against you:
Take a moment to recall a beautiful and calm place and breathe in through your nose, feeling your lungs inflate and your rib cage expanding. Place one hand above your groin as this will help you feel the breath. Slowly and easily exhale through your mouth; continue exhaling until you feel there is nothing left in you. Breathe in when you feel your body wants to.
Do this for fifteen minutes. This will calm you, centre your breath and focus your thoughts.
2. Be present:
This is something you can do whilst you are waiting to speak to sharpen your level of awareness. What can you see, hear, smell, touch and feel around you? Try to do this with no judgment. For example if you notice the CEO yawning, that is all you say to yourself, (not the CEO is bored, late, wants the speaker to speed up!). The reason for this is that you are focusing your mind on the ‘now’ and not what is imagined.
Another highly effective skill used by many of the world’s top athletes to improve their technique – is visualization. Days, hours or weeks before your presentation run it over and over in your imagination, visualizing the event going incredibly well, go into detail – see what you are wearing, see yourself answering those really difficult questions effortlessly. Repeat this as often as you like and keep improving and editing your own private scene. You can do this anywhere – walking the dog, in the shower, going for a run.
Movement will disperse the adrenaline in the body. So if you are lucky enough to be able to run, jump or skip before speaking – then just do it. Moving around your stage whilst you are presenting will also help. Like an actor on stage, find your reasons to move. Get a drink, point out a detail on a slide or approach you audience.
5. Focus on your audience:
We are often nervous because we focus on ourselves. “What if I forget, or they don’t laugh” etc. How can you help your audience and channel your energy out to them and not back into your own head. Think of it as a conversation. How would you like your audience to feel? Excited, challenged, under pressure, supported, there are hundreds of different ways your audience can be affected by your message. Be clear what they could be.
Finally, always remember everyone wants your presentation to go well. No one wants to be bored or irritated. The vast majority of people want you to succeed and to feel they spent their time well listening to you.
The recently departed Nelson Mandela once said:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
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Author: Josh Hansen is a writer who covers a wide range of employment and digital (sometimes together) topics.