At the start of the month I did a presentation at Northwestern – and it went very well. The afternoon session was all women, while the evening sessions were comprised of both men and women. The audiences were different, but there was one thing I knew they had in common; they all attended Northwestern University.
To prepare, I arrived a day early to check out the venue and get a sense of the audience. I picked up the Northwestern newspaper which was an excellent source of information. I began to understand the culture of Northwestern. I also got some great information on anxiety based on a book by Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago; “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To.” Anyone who has flubbed a presentation knows the heartbreak of a choke.
From a review of the book: “Dr. Sian Beilock reveals the astonishing new science of why we all too often blunder when the stakes are high. What happens in our brain and body when we experience the dreaded performance anxiety? And what are we doing differently when everything magically “clicks” into place and the perfect golf swing, tricky test problem, or high-pressure business pitch become easy?”
Sian found working memory, housed in the prefrontal cortex, is what allows us to organize our thoughts and reason through a situation. When we are in a stressful situation or we perceive stress, the pre-frontal cortex shuts down because it has a limited capacity. Usually, we get in front of a group and are thinking the presentation is not going to go well and become obsessed with the thoughts which take up all our pre-frontal cortex capacity. So what is the solution?
I beleve in rehearsal and deep breathing, but Sian has some excellent suggestions:
- Writing your worries down may seem as though it would make you think about them more. It doesn’t. Writing down worries for 10 minutes before your presentation releases your anxiety.
- Retrain yourself to see your reactions differently. Your beating heart doesn’t mean you are about to fail, but that you are ready to go.
- It is all about how you interpret your reactions. If you interpret your clammy hands as a bad reaction you are more likely to perform badly. And your pre-frontal cortex will shut down.
Sound familar? I always say use your nervousness to supercharge your presentation, sounds like Sian agrees.