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Overcoming presentation anxiety post-lockdown

How to present with presence in seven simple steps

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The last time I presented in-person was March 8th 2020, a keynote for International Women’s Day. Two weeks later, we entered the first lockdown of the pandemic. Since then, I have adapted all of my workshops and events to online platforms creating a high engagement environment. As someone who previously struggled with public speaking anxiety, so much so I actively avoided public speaking for over a decade; it has been particularly comforting to hide behind a screen. When I think about workplaces opening up to in-person personal and professional development sessions, I feel resistance. I will of course overcome this resistance and this article explores the seven simple steps I will take to present with presence once more.

Step One: Get to the root of the anxiety

When we speak, whether in a presentation or in a meeting it can feel very exposing. During the final project presentation for my Masters in Chemistry, two eminent Professors laughing and joking with each other turned to me and said, “put your notes down and tell us about your project.” It completely threw me.

I felt exposed and like I didn’t know enough.”

The dread and panic drained through me. I gave one-word answers and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I ran down the corridor crying, and something switched that day. I developed an emotional allergy to shame which ended up negatively shaping the next decade of my career. I reached a point when I finally decided that I’d had enough of playing small and I would do whatever it takes to reach my full potential. Getting to the root of my anxieties was the first step to restoring confidence.

Journal Prompts

Think about presenting or speaking up in meetings and give yourself at least 20 minutes to journal around the following questions.

  1. What specifically do you most want to change?
  2. What are three pieces of evidence that suggest this is a challenge for you?
  3. How would you know if this was no longer a challenge in your life?
  4. Was there ever a time when this wasn’t a challenge in your life?
  5. Go backwards in time and list all the events throughout your life that are related to this challenge.
  6. What did you learn growing up that might have influenced this challenge?
  7. What is the relationship between all of these events and your current situation in life?

Step Two: Is it a limiting belief or limiting emotion?

Some beliefs are deeply empowering and others are limiting beliefs that hold us back. The irony is that it actually doesn’t matter whether they are true or not. What matters is what we believe and how we choose to make sense of that.

The answer to question seven will be either a limiting belief or a limiting emotion. Which is it for you?

Examples include: I’m not worthy, I don’t know enough, I’m not good enough, people are out to get me, I’m too busy, what will people think of me?

Step Three: Belief Buster challenge

If it is a limiting belief take yourself through the belief buster challenge to explore the veracity of your belief and choose something more powerful to believe instead.

  1. When did you decide that?
  2. Did you ever not believe it?
  3. Do you know anyone who doesn’t think that’s the truth?
  4. What’s the consequence of you believing that?
  5. What could you believe instead?
  6. What would happen if you did believe that instead?

Step Four: Emotional Release

If it is a limiting emotion, let it go. There are many different techniques to processing and moving through emotions, the trick is to not get stuck in it. Pick on of the following ways to process the emotion.

  • Create a playlist of music to connect you with that emotion and move through it.
  • Screaming into a towel.
  • Let go dancing to music.
  • Vigorous exercise.

Step Five: The Role of Breath in Presenting

There are two main principles to breath work:

(i) awareness, watching your breath.

(ii) consciousness, driving your breath.

When you control your state, you can control the room. Start by watching your breath for a minute.  One breath is classified as the in and out breath. Count the number of breaths you take in a minute.

At rest we expect 6-10 breaths. If you are taking over 10 breaths you may be feeling stressed.

If you have a slow breath rate, you may like to consciously speed up your breath to increase the energy you can bring and improve your performance. If you have a fast breath rate already you may like to slow it down by breathing in for 4 and breathing out for 6 method. With cadence breathing the optimum frequency is whatever is right and works for you. This is something to explore and adjust over time but so frequently overlooked because it is so simple.

Step Six: Voice Warm-Up

Presentation anxiety often arises when we do not have control over our breath resulting in an amygdala hijack and cognitive impairment. This is often described as presenting and at the same time having an inner dialogue about what is happening and what other people are thinking about you or going completely blank and not able to recall the details that you would like. Doing a simple voice warm up takes breath control and voice power to the next level.

Practice low, medium and high-pitched humming to increase your capacity and tune into your resonators. Wake up your articulators with a tongue twister such as “Peter Piper picked a pocket full of pickled peppers, a pocket full of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a pocket full of pickled peppers then where are the pocket full of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.”

Step Seven: Just do it!

It just so happens that Nike is my middle name. We all know the Nike mantra, “just do it.” Whatever limiting belief or emotion that comes up say to yourself, “AND I’m going to do it anyway.” Each time that a presentation goes well or you speak up powerfully in a meeting, praise yourself for these actions and build a new neural pathway that is positively reinforced.

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