Friends and Framing Can Reduce Presentation Anxiety
The past month or so has proved insightful for those interested in managing speaking anxiety. To begin, Chapman University asked American’s what they fear most in their daily lives. Positioned among concern over a random terrorist attack and identity theft, fear of public speaking ranked among the top five. Thankfully, two recent research studies provide insight into ways we can reduce our speaking anxiety. Both involve what you think about prior to presenting.
Research conducted by Dr. Anke Karl of Psychology at the University of Exeter and published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that when subjects viewed images of people receiving support and affection their fear response was reduced. Soothing activity appears to calm the amygdala’s (the emotional center of the brain) activity. Further, it appears that the brain may function more effectively after viewing soothing behavior. Prior to presenting, you can envision receiving support from you audience or from those you will associate with after your presentation. Additionally, you can reflect on the importance of those you love. This type of visualization with should help blunt your anxiety response. This technique pairs nicely with the well-established anxiety management technique of interacting with your audience prior to speaking. By meeting and greeting members of your audience, you connect with them and thereby reduce your nervousness.
Dr. Vikram Chib’s research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine points to another avenue for managing your speaking anxiety. He found that a person’s level of loss aversion – fear of negative consequences, such as losing one’s status or not achieving one’s goals – affected the likelihood that they would choke under pressure. Specifically, research participants with high loss aversion choked when told they stood to gain a lot, while those participants with low loss aversion choked under the pressure of large prospective losses. What this means for you as a presenter is counter-intuitive. Specifically, after reflecting on how concerned you are for the potential negative outcomes of your presentation (e.g., your risk aversion), you shoul reframe your speaking situation in one of two ways:
– If you have great concern over your potential negative consequences, then you should avoid thinking of all the things you have to gain if you do a good job.
– If you have little concern over your potential negative consequences, then you should avoid thinking of all the things you have to lose if you do a poor job.
Taken together, the research presented here serves to empower you to address one of our most significant fears by providing you with action you can undertake prior to speaking to reduce your anxiety and likelihood of choking under pressure.