“The only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.”
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Most individuals experience some degree of anxiety and/or nervousness prior to presenting. Two of the greatest orators of the past two centuries, Sir Winston Churchill and President Abraham Lincoln, were both reported to have some degree of anxiety before speaking publicly.
Every presenter has a rush of adrenaline prior to presenting. Having worked with thousands of speakers, I can attest to this. This angst seems to be independent of position or social standing – it doesn’t matter if it is a CEO or a college student. Geography doesn’t appear to be much of a factor either – whether the speaker is located in the Americas or Zimbabwe, the anxiety seems to follow. Nervous energy affects all of us.
This is a good thing.
That’s right, it is a good thing.
Contrary to popular wisdom, “nervous” energy, properly channeled, and the physiological responses that follow will make for a more impactful presenter, and presentation.
One of the keys is successful channeling this “nervous energy” is understanding what is actually happening when our “fight or flight” response kicks in.
Dr. Jeremy Jamieson, an expert on social stress and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester, has extensively studied how stress impacts individuals with relation to risk, decision-making and performance.
In a study conducted last year, Dr. Jamieson was able to determine that when an individual actually understood the physiological and psychological processes that occur when stress begins, and why these processes are actually very positive signs, they became much more adept at successfully managing anxiety.
In Dr. Jamieson’s own words:
“The problem is that we think all stress is bad,” explains Jeremy Jamieson, the lead author on the study and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “We see headlines about ‘Killer Stress’ and talk about being ‘stressed out.’” Before speaking in public, people often interpret stress sensations, like butterflies in the stomach, as a warning that something bad is about to happen, he says.
“But those feelings just mean that our body is preparing to address a demanding situation,” explains Jamieson. “The body is marshaling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscle groups and delivering more oxygen to our brains. Our body’s reaction to social stress is the same flight or fight response we produce when confronting physical danger. These physiological responses help us perform, whether we’re facing a bear in the forest or a critical audience.”
I have been working with Dr. Jamieson for the past few months, and have put his research and his materials into use with corporate clients when discussing ways to manage anxiety. The results when dealing with executives and professionals has been the same as Dr. Jamieson’s results working with students. Simply understanding exactly what is happening to a person and the body’s natural response when stress is initiated, why this is positive and how individuals in other fields utilize this advantageously has a positive effect on how individuals view and address anxiety prior to presenting.
Individuals tend to no longer look to eliminate the anxiety, but are more interested in learning how to manage it and “plateau” it – keep it from becoming all consuming. It also appears that individuals who performed earlier in life, whether former athletes, actors/actresses, musicians, etc., all tended to respond extremely well to the reframed understanding of the stress response.
Dr. Jamieson and I are partnering to conduct research to see how reframing can benefit as many individuals as possible. Reframing is not a new concept, reframing the stress response through psychological and biological response as it relates to public speaking is new, exciting and extremely powerful.