Having just a little bit of anxiety or nervousness helps to keep you focused on the important mission at hand. It tunes you. I heightens your awareness and (believe it or not) gives you added energy you can actually use to your advantage…if you know how.
So, if you’re experiencing some nervousness at a big gig coming up, don’t add even more pressure to yourself by tricking yourself into thinking you have to get rid of it in order to be successful. Nothing could be further from the truth! What you can do and what you should do is to learn to harness that nervousness, to control the anxiety, and to use that added energy as fuel for your presentation/interview/talk. Here’s what I recommend:
- Accept the fact that there is nothing wrong with being nervous. You are human. Nervousness is a perfectly rational and normal behavior in response to situations where we are uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with you if you get nervous at the thought of delivering a formal presentation in front of people. There is nothing wrong with you if you get nervous right before walking into an interview for a job. There is nothing wrong with you if you get nervous because you need to have “the talk” with your significant other or your teenager. So get over trying to get over it. It’s happening. Embrace it and just try to manage it.
- Take a deep breath. That’s right, breathing helps. Many people don’t realize how much nervousness actually impacts their breathing, and it’s not in a good way. When we’re nervous a natural reaction could be to breathe too hard or to breathe too shallow. As soon as you feel those nerves getting to you, be mindful of your breathing. Control it. Think about how you are breathing right in the moment and actually think the words “breathe in” and “breathe out” as you go through the motions. If this sounds a lot like meditating, then you got the right idea. J Being mindful of our breathing actually helps lower the anxiety levels and can help you better manage those butterflies fluttering around inside that belly.
- Do some power poses. No really. BEFORE you step on that stage to do your presentation or go into that room for the interview, find a quiet place (the bathroom works really well for privacy) and stand in a power pose (think Superman or Wonder Woman pose) for just two minutes. The idea is to take up as much space as possible. Seriously, the research shows that just by standing in a power pose (straight posture, hands on hips or stretched straight out to the sides, feet shoulder width apart) for only two minutes actually raises your testosterone levels (increasing your feeling of power and dominance) and lowers your cortisol levels (decreasing your feelings of powerlessness and fear). In two minutes you can manipulate your hormones and actually trick your body into feeling more confident! If you don’t believe me, watch Amy Cuddy explain the research in her TED Talk here.
- Practice! This is the most obvious action you can do in order to more effectively manage your anxiety; yet I continue to be amazed by how many people refuse to actually do it! Even the professionals spend time rehearsing and going over their important points. Some may need less rehearsal time than others, but they all will agree that you need to go into your presentation/interview/talk already having a good idea of what you intend to say and how you intend to say it. And yes, you can even practice for an interview. Just Google “interview questions” and you’ll come up with more than enough example questions that you can use to come up with answers. Write your answers down and practice them out loud. This goes the same for your presentations. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you sound on paper. The only thing that matters is how it sounds when you’re saying it in front of the audience. So you must practice it out loud. And if you don’t practice it out loud, it may not come out the way you planned it to. Do not leave the success of your presentation or interview to fate. Have a plan, practice that plan, and then you will be better prepared to execute that plan when the time comes.