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If you’re like most people, you view performance anxiety as negative. What if you suspend this belief for a moment and imagine your nerves as potential energy you can direct toward your goal of a great performance?

Conquering Performance Anxiety: A 6-Step Checklist

by Judy Ringer

 

If you’re like most people, you view performance anxiety as negative. What if you suspend this belief for a moment and imagine your nerves as potential energy you can direct toward your goal of a great performance?

You can change your relationship with this energy by working with it instead of running from it, and allow it to shift you into “the zone” of optimal performance described by professionals the world over. What follows are mental and physical strategies to transform nervous energy into directed energy before and during your presentation, plus additional tips on how to enjoy your moments in the limelight.

Getting Ready: Your Body Prepares Just Like You Do

The anxiety associated with performance usually spikes shortly before show time. But symptoms can begin days or even weeks in advance and range from dry mouth and shortness of breath to shaking, shivering, and a complete inability to perform.

  1. Change your perspective. While it may seem that your body is attacking you, consider that what you call nerves or anxiety may actually be your body’s way of getting ready for the event. Rename the “attack” and call it excitement, preparation, and purposeful design. In addition, focus your awareness on the symptoms. Notice how they show up, grow, subside, grow again, and subside again. Stay present, breathe, and watch with curiosity. Measure the symptoms (That was a 7 on the Richter scale!). Be curious about them (Wow, look how my body is shaking. Amazing!). Even try amplifying them.

    For example, when I’m really nervous, I shiver. In the past, the shivers could prevent me from speaking or performing. Before a concert some years ago, instead of resisting, I tried to amplify the symptom. I let myself shiver, then gradually increased it until I was shaking, the difference being that now it was intentional. I was the driver instead of the passenger. By mimicking the symptom and intensifying it, I was gradually able to slow it down and stop it.
     
  2. Transform the inner critic: Prior to the presentation, notice your internal dialogue. Is it friendly or critical?

    For instance, when I’m feeling intimidated by an audience, my inner critic says things like: They won’t like this presentation. You’re not good enough for this group. I used to try to ignore this attacking voice, but the more I resisted my nervousness, the worse it got. Now, I pay attention. I notice the voice, listen, and even ask a few questions of my own: So why won’t they like it? What would be good enough? How are these folks different from other groups? I regularly receive illuminating answers. In any case, I do have fun and–guess what? Listening to the attacking voice tends to quiet it.

    Then I can replace it with a more supportive one: I’m ready. I can handle this. I have a worthwhile message, and these people are interested in hearing it. This is going to be fun. What inner support can you give yourself before a performance?
     
  3. Visualize the ideal: Another inspiring method of preparation is to visualize your presentation. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and see in your mind’s eye your highest imagining of what you’re about to do. Start a week or more before the performance. Spend 5-10 minutes a day watching yourself give a great presentation. Imagine feeling calm and confident. Hear your message. Sense your connection with the audience. Picture the conclusion, the group’s praise and applause ringing in your ears, knowing you did your best.

You’re On: Maintaining Connection

Once I’m in front of the audience, my nervous energy has an outlet. As I begin to speak, the energy moves into vocal form and physical action. I lose my self-absorbed state and link up with my purpose. Events can occur, however, to interrupt that connection. I may get lost in a thought, forget the next slide, or just “go up” as actors call it. Hmmm, where was I? Or a question throws me and I lose my balance. Experience has shown me three powerful ways to get back into the flow.

  1. Remember your purpose for the presentation. What are you here to do? What’s your core message? It helps to be able to describe your presentation’s purpose in a word or phrase that goes right to its heart.
  2. Be comfortable with silence. Great presenters, singers, and actors are at home with silence. They enjoy the ability to hold an audience with their presence.
  3. Look into their eyes. The audience is your ally. Making eye contact will return you to presence and purpose.

Tips and Suggestions:

As you perfect your presentation style, keep these tips in mind:

  • A successful presentation will depend on two things: delivery and content. We usually spend most of our time on the content of the presentation, with very little left over for practicing the delivery. Don’t forget to practice—for peers, friends, relatives, or anyone who will listen.
  • Don’t take questions personally. Even difficult questions show interest. Smile and thank the questioner. Relate the question to something in your presentation. If you can’t answer, there are often people in the audience who can, and I find it refreshing to let someone else be the teacher.
  • Arrive in time to greet the attendees and learn some of their names. Audiences tell me that this meeting and greeting action makes them feel acknowledged and comfortable. It also helps me feel comfortable.
  • Change your perspective from “presentation” to “conversation.” Treating your presentation as if it were a conversation with the audience will help you relax and increase your connection with them.

Acknowledge your nervous energy and appreciate what’s behind it–the desire to do your best. Before long, your nerves will be like old friends you wave to on your way to a powerful performance.

Resources

Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict, by Judy Ringer
Presentation Zen and other books by Garr Reynolds
Resonate and other books by Nancy Duarte
The Francis Effect, by M.F. Fensholt
A Soprano on Her Head, by Eloise Ristad

Download the pdf of Conquering Performance Anxiety: A 6-Step Checklist

About the Author

Judy Ringer is a conflict and communication skills trainer, black belt in Aikido, and founder of Power & Presence Training and Portsmouth Aikido. Would you like free tips and articles every month? Subscribe to Ki Moments!

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Note

You’re welcome to reprint all or parts of this article. Please include “About the Author” text, and a link to my Website. If you have any questions, send me a note at judy@judyringer.com.