New Tools to Combat Public Speaking Anxiety
I constantly look out for new research on how to help people feel less anxious when communicating. I am always excited to share what I come across. Below, please find five helpful approaches to enhancing communication confidence:
Peel away your fear. Research from George Washington University conducted by Cassandra Moshfegh found that mice exposed to orange essential oils, which are oils extracted from orange rinds, showed a marked reduction in their signs of stress and fear following exposure to anxiety provoking situations. If these findings extend to humans, then simply taking time to smell orange essential oils before and after a high stakes communication event could help.
Scrub a dub dub. For a while now, researchers have known that washing your hands shortly after a negative experience can reduce the lingering thoughts and feelings you might have about the event. Now researchers at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto have suggested a mechanism by which this washing works. Based on several studies that they conducted, these researchers believe washing or using a wipe after a challenging event serves to separate you psychologically from the prior goal set you had (much like separating dirt from your hands), thus allowing you to focus better on other, more positive goals. So if your next presentation does not go as well as you had hoped, rather than ruminate, wash or wipe.
With a little help from my friends. Test anxiety can be significantly reduced and scores improved if the nervous test taker receives support from friends via social media prior to taking a test. Robert Deloatch of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that supportive social media comments and even “likes” helped anxious test takers perform better. This finding comports nicely with extant research that demonstrates talking to supportive people prior to engaging in a stressful communication can help alleviate some of the angst. Simply put, reaching out to people seeking positive support – online or in person – prior to presenting can result in less anxiety.
Get back to nature. Research from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School has shown that listening to the sounds of nature influences how you focus your attention. When listening to nature sounds, you tend to direct your focus externally, whereas artificial, person made sounds tend to direct your focus internally. Previous research has shown when your attention is externally directed, you tend to feel calmer and have a less severe fight or flight response. I often suggest people listen to songs to help them focus and relax; I now intend to include listening to nature sounds as a way to accomplish the same calm demeanor.
Be awesome. That feeling of wonder and amazement – being in awe – can be of great help to you when you are anxious or overly self-conscious. Research by Dacher Keltner at UC Berkeley and others has shown that after being in a state of awe based on experiencing nature, art, architecture, etc. people report feeling less stressed and happier. This effect seems to last beyond the immediate awe experience. Further, research from Arizona State University has shown that post-awe experiences leave people better able to focus and remember. By seeking out opportunities to be amazed and awe inspired, you can increase your sense of agency to address your anxiety.
Taken individually or together, these new findings should be considered in every communicator’s anxiety management plan.