This 5-Second Trick Can Drastically Improve Your Presentation Skills
Presentation to senior management in your division; presentation to colleagues in other divisions; presentation to subordinates across the organisation—you name the type of presentation, but one certainty is that presentations are an inherent part of an increasingly collaborative world of work. Without collaboration on large-scale projects that require presentations and status updates, there would indeed be little purpose in having organisations at all and we’d be better off working alone.
While presentations are undoubtedly helpful, they can often be the bane of employees’ existence. Anxiety about public speaking is exceedingly common, as 73% of people have reported having public speaking anxiety, according to one report. And what better way to increase anxiety than to bring public speaking into the workplace, where your colleagues and manager are evaluating you and determining your future.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a quick fix to this anxiety that also helped improve your public speaking ability? While she was a PhD student at Wharton, Alison Wood Brooks, now an Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, conducted a clever series of experiments to find exactly this quick fix. Her solution? Channel this anxiety into something beneficial: excitement.
Many people attempt to reduce anxiety before a big presentation by telling themselves to stay calm. However, theories of emotions suggest that this is often a Sisyphean task, in that it can be very difficult to alter one’s physiology (e.g., decrease heart rate) quickly and easily. What is easier is not to fight against your physiological reaction but instead to try to channel it into something more positive.
To accomplish this Alison suggests that when you’re feeling anxious, you should reframe it positively by saying something simple to yourself:
Repeating this enough times works much better at inducing excitement than trying to convince yourself that you are calm when you are far from it.
Reframing your emotions certainly helps you feel better, but the upshot of the research is that it also can help you perform better in a public speaking context. In two lab studies with participants taking part in anxiety-inducing events—singing karaoke or giving a speech in front of an experimenter—those individuals who reframed their nerves as excitement both sang better karaoke and were rated by others as being more persuasive, competent, and confident during their speeches.
Quick fixes to big problems, like public speaking anxiety, are often too good to be true. Fortunately, bringing psychological research to practical problems can yield amazing results that are sometimes counter to what we commonly believe. So next time you’re anxious before a big speech or presentation, rather than taking deep breaths to slow your heart rate in an attempt to stay calm, you may instead be better off with a little positive self-talk.