Recent Research to Help Reduce Speaking Anxiety and Improve Memory
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    Recent Research to Help Reduce Speaking Anxiety and Improve Memory

    Recently while culling through new research findings, I came across five studies that have direct relevance to communicating in terms of either anxiety reduction or helping with memory – yours and your audience’s.

    Mindful walking. Research conducted at USC found that students who took time to focus on what was going on around them while walking were significantly less stressed than those who were not mindful in their moving from place to place. Simply noting the scenery around you, the smells in the air, or the feeling of your feet on the ground can help to reduce your anxiety. So, the next time you have a high stakes meeting or presentation, allow yourself time to walk around the building.

    Near misses help. When it comes to remembering something, research from Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute found that mistakes that are close to what was intended are better at helping you remember than not making errors at all. Too often when preparing a presentation or content to deliver during a meeting we don’t start practicing out loud until we feel that we have it down well. This is why many people try to memorize their content prior to speaking. This new research suggests practicing before you have everything all set will actually help you remember it better. So, take your outline and start practicing your talking points aloud, rather than trying to get it all right in your head first.

    Ask and ye shall help others remember. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found further support for “retrieval-enhanced learning,” which refers to how recalling something you recently heard reinforces it in memory. This research looked at how quizzing on newly learned information aids learners in recalling the information much later. Thus, if you wish to help your audience remember your pearls of wisdom, you may want to include some questions in your content that get them thinking about what you previously said.

    Have meaningful conversations. Researchers at the University of Zurich found that having meaningful conversations – those in which deep, important information is exchanged – leads the communicators to be happier and more fulfilled, regardless of if they are introverts or extroverts. Yet, many people retreat and ruminate before or after stressful situations. So the next time you find yourself feeling nervous or bad about a presentation, spend time talking to others about meaningful ideas.

    Wake up happy. Research out of Penn State found that if you wake up stressed about your day (“stress anticipation”), you are more likely to perform poorly due to a reduction in working memory – the part of memory associated with immediate perception and processing. So, if you wake up stressed, acknowledge it and actively work to reduce your anxiety. You can try exercise, deep breathing, writing out what makes you feel nervous. You can reset this morning predisposition through awareness and action.