The wiring in your house is pretty fundamental really. You flip a switch, the circuit is completed and the light goes on. It’s not like your house one day gets a bit moody and decides it’s really not a fan of the whole light thing. The same is true for hundreds of other areas of your life.
But when it comes to many people’s fear of presenting, we are up against human history that tended to reward those who had the good sense to hid in the cave from the T-Rex. And the same small region of the brain that was present with them, the amygdala, is also providing you an instantaneous prompting as well in one of three very defined responses…
Freeze, flight or fight.
This excerpt from the reality show Running with Bear Grylls, demonstrates this protection mechanism in high gear.
You see, the amygdala is actively drawing on emotional memory to decide what cue to send. Bad presentation experiences in the past? Most likely those old tapes are playing just beneath your conscious understanding. Issues related to an eroded self-confidence? They can often be traced back to a parental relationship. We are incredibly complex machines but take heart, change is more then just a remote possibility.
How can I be so sure? It’s what we’ve seen hundreds of times before. In the first 30-minutes of a workshop, an attendee, with eyes cast to the floor, tentatively tells the group , “I’ve always been horrible at this and I really hate presenting – my boss made me come“.
Then by the end of the day, something amazing happened. With shoulders back, head up and eyes engaged, they communicated their message with renewed confidence while the group’s spontaneous applause seemed to bring a sense of accomplishment they’ve not felt for a very long time.
Don’t get me wrong, their 8 hours with us didn’t cure them of fear. But it did start to give them something stronger to replace it… hope. Little successes building upon little successes until their feelings about what they were capable of doing in front of a group started to change as well.
Here are 4 ways to begin to tame the fear beast within you.
1. Work on a toolkit of skills that actively convey a more confident version of you
This may sound like ‘fake it until you make it’, but it’s so much more. Finding a good skill building workshop with a supportive group of co-attendees can start the process of positive change. Change on the inside as well as the outside. (Check out Amy Cuddy’s video on how the mechanics of more confident delivery can actually change the chemistry of confidence.)
That being said, it’s important I tell you that for this to be meaningful, your motivation cannot be to simply impress your friends or please your manager. That motivation simply creates a thin veneer. Do this for you. For a less fearful future. As Amy on our team reminds her classes, “You don’t need to hustle for your worthiness“. (Thanks Brene’ Brown)
2. Visualize what success might look and feel like.
The mental part of preparation plays an important roll. Much like we see an Olympic athlete running a course in their mind before they launch out of a gate, we can do the same. Once you know what skills to use, spend some quiet moments seeing yourself using the skills successfully (and your audience’s response to them) instead of dwelling on all the things that could possibly go wrong.
3. Positive feedback based on improved execution is self-reinforcing.
When we get positive feedback from others, it motivates us to replace old tapes with new ones. We like the feeling we get when someone says, “I don’t know what you’re doing differently, but it’s really working for you.” So the next time, we naturally desire to do the things that create the feedback we so desire. We just need to make sure the skills are practiced enough to be there under pressure.
[If your fears are totally debilitating, it may be worth spending some time with a professional to unpack it’s origin. You’re worth the investment.]
4. Get up to bat as often as you can.
If we go long periods of time between presentations (and positive reinforcement), the old negative tapes have a way of taking over again. Seek out even small opportunities to present to others to continually reinforce the right things. Little successes build upon little successes to create big change.
Don’t expect your fear to go away altogether when it comes to presenting. You really don’t want it to. You see, having some fear can help us stay intentional about the important things and provide a meaningful benchmark for measuring our success.
Maybe it’s time to tackle an area that’s been a real challenge for you and take a life lesson from caveman Org.
Eating the dinosaur…. even better.