At some point during your career, you will inevitably have to give a presentation. This can be stressful if you don’t have the tools to deal with your anxiety.
Today we will share with you a few ways to manage your anxiety and lower your stress levels during presentations.
What does anxiety do?
From a physical perspective, anxiety raises your heart rate and creates a sense of fear inside your body.
Most people’s resting pulse rate is around 60 beats per minute. When you get anxious, your pulse rate can increase to 100 beats per minute.
During the first five minutes of your presentation, your pulse rate can see an even larger spike to 165 beats per minute!
This intense pulse rate creates a fight or flight response and a feeling of self-doubt. This ultimately makes you less persuasive because your physical body is focused on your heart rate and not on the presentation material.
Anxiety & Performance
The Center for Performance Enhancement published a study in the Chicago Tribune about basketball players performing under pressure in the NCAA Final Four. The study looked at free-throw shooting percentages and the point differential between the two teams as a way to study anxiety.
The player who was shooting with a 0-4-point lead made 56% of their shots. The player who was shooting with a 5-8-point lead made 83% of their shots. Finally, the player who was shooting with a 9+ point lead made 62% of their shots.
This study demonstrates that a little bit of anxiety is a good thing, but too much or too little actually hinders your performance. The player who faced intense anxiety only succeed 56% of the time. The player who faced a moderate amount of anxiety saw the best performance at an astonishing 83% success rate. The player who felt almost no anxiety, being up by 9+ points, saw a deterioration of their performance due to a level of comfort in their environment.
Therefore, when presenting, it is best to have a moderate amount of anxiety because it actually helps your performance. Being too anxious or not anxious enough creates either too much fear or too much comfort, ultimately hindering your performance.
Tips for Managing Anxiety
The following are proven techniques for managing anxiety during a presentation.
One way to reduce your anxiety when presenting is to show a sense of excitement. You can do this by literally telling yourself “I am excited to present” which triggers a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes feelings of love, bonding, and well-being. By saying “I’m excited to present”, you are mentally associating presenting with a positive bodily response. While it may not work the first time, in the long run, creating a positive association in your brain will help decrease your anxiety while presenting.
Another way to reduce anxiety is to use the square breathing method. This allows your body to get enough oxygen to calm yourself down and lower your heart rate. For this technique, you will need to remember a square and the number three. By imaging a square, it allows your mind to focus on something else other than the presentation at hand.
Starting on the lower left point on the square, move up vertically and count to three as you inhale. Next, move horizontally across the top of the square and exhale as you count to three. Third, move down the right side of the square and inhale as you count to three. Finally, move across the bottom of the square towards the left as you exhale and count three.
Go around the square using this technique three times with your eyes closed. After your completion of three laps around the square, you will begin to feel a significant reduction in your level of anxiety. The best place to perform the technique is in the bathroom for a couple of minutes before you are to give your presentation. An excluded location allows for a quiet environment for you to close your eyes and focus on square breathing.
Calm Down Breathing
Calm down breathing is a simplified version of square breathing. For this exercise, you simply inhale for three seconds and exhale for three seconds. When you inhale, say in your head the word “calm”. When you exhale, say in your head the word “down”. The breathing part of this exercise will help reduce your heart rate, while word association will help to mentally combat the anxiety.
This last technique is less of an exercise and more of a mindset. Having a realistic perspective allows you to understand how insignificant the presentation actually is. For this technique, fill your head with positive thoughts such as: remembering the birth of your child, the time you rode your bike for the first time, or any other happy moments that you cherish. Next, think back to the presentation that you’re about to give and compare it to these big moment life events. By comparing the two side by side, it highlights the true insignificance of the presentation because it cannot take away from your happy memories. Having a realistic perspective about your presentation combats anxiety because it allows yourself to truly understand how insignificant it may be. Yes, the presentation may be important for your job, but in the big picture of life, it will not affect you as much as you think it will.
Having anxiety while presenting is a never-ending battle, but it is one that you must fight. You cannot simply avoid giving presentations your entire life. Rather, you must embrace them and use the techniques you have just learned to reduce your anxiety. While you may not be able to completely alleviate your anxiety, these techniques will most definitely help you to calm you down for your next presentation.