Fear of public speaking consistently tops the list in terms of what evokes most terror in people - even higher than death! Jerry Seinfeld quipped that if you have to go to a funeral “you’re better off in the cask than doing the eulogy”
At a recent wedding I observed first hand a number of anxious speakers cautiously sipping their way through proceedings, waiting for their big moment before letting their hair down. The advice consistently handed out was to “relax and calm down”
Intuitively this sounds like good advice, in fact it’s what over 90%of people recommend you do. However, it’s not the best approach to nailing that speech…
Harvard conducted a study to test what works best, getting excited or calming down before your big moment.
A group of students were advised that they needed to speak in front of their whole year group and explain why they would be a great study partner. They were given 2 minutes to prepare only. Half of the students needed to spend the preparation time telling themselves they are calm, the other half spent the time telling themselves they are excited.
The speeches were ranked for confidence and persuasion by the audience (whom were unaware which students were programmed for calmness or excitement).
The students that prepared to be excited were ranked as:
- 15% more confident
- 17% more persuasive
- And spoke for 29% longer
The reason for this is that our emotions drive our nervous system. We have emotions that drive our “go” system and we have emotions that drive our “stop”system.
Being calm is a “stop” system emotion. Being nervous is a “go” system driver.
The challenge is that it’s very hard to switch from a “go” driver immediately to a “stop” driver. It’s like slamming on the brakes from 100kmh. It takes while to come to a halt.
However, it’s easy to reframe your emotional state from one “go” emotion to another.
Consider the physical expressions of nervousness -your heart rate increases, shortness of breath, you start to sweat. Now, consider the physical expressions of being excited… they are exactly the same. Hence why when you feel the nerves coming before that big pitch, your best bet is to reframe your mind and get excited!