There’s a famous quotation by Mark Twain, an American writer in the 19th century which says ‘there are only two types of public speakers in the world, the nervous and the liars’.
Who doesn’t get nervous when they have to speak in public?
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- Do you believe your English isn’t good enough to present?
- Should you write out a presentation script?
Feeling anxious is understandable and perfectly normal. The reason we become anxious is because of the uncertainty surrounding the event. We never know exactly how the presentation is going to turn out despite having planned and practiced it well. And a little bit of nervousness is good – it’s the adrenaline which keeps us alert and can aid our performance.
But it’s important to keep the nerves and anxiety to a manageable level. To perform well, we should be aiming to be in the ‘right’ state, not in ‘a state’. The three words I like to describe the mental and emotional state we’re aiming for are calm, focused and determined.
What can you do to achieve this desirable state and readiness for any public speaking scenario?
My favourite technique and one that I constantly use myself especially when the stakes are high, is developing positive coping statements. They’re a great way to make sure we put our anxieties into a healthy perspective rather than letting our fears run away with us.
Positive coping statements are well-thought-out, rational statements that counteract the negative (and often untrue) things that you say to yourself about your ability and potential to give a good presentation.
Negative self-talk is extremely common when we have to present in a second language. It can often sound something like this:
- My English isn’t good enough to present
- I’ll forget what I want to say
- The audience will criticize me
But are these statements really true? Absolutely not! They exist in our minds! They come from a place of fear. In coaching circles, we consider the word fear in this context to be an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Think about that one!
If you say things like those three statements above to yourself, it’s time to create some positive coping statements. You can then keep repeating the new statements to yourself like a ‘mantra’, to feed your subconscious mind until the new thoughts become a belief.
Let’s see what some positive coping statements might sound like for the three example negative statements given above.
If my boss thinks my English is good enough to present, then perhaps it is!
- I’ll forget what I want to say –
I know my topic well and I’ve practised the presentation a lot so I should be ok
- The audience will criticize me –
The audience wants to hear my message
Our mind is very powerful. Getting into the right mindset for presenting is fundamental if you want to maximise your chances of success. And when you think about it, if we can control our thoughts and are free to choose what to think (the ultimate freedom of human beings), why would we choose to think negative thoughts which create anxiety rather than more positive ones that make us feel calmer?