Are you getting depressed and worried about the anxiety that grips you whenever you are asked to give a presentation or participate in a team meeting? Do you avoid coming to work on the days when you are more likely to be asked to present or speak publicly?
Are you secretly resentful that your colleagues don’t have any issues presenting even though you could do a better job – if only you did not worry so much? Do you hate seeing your juniors promoted because they are taking risks while you feel paralysed by the anxiety? Does it make you feel like a bit of a failure? Why do some people breeze through their presentations unworried, even if they don?t have something smart or interesting to say, while you lose sleep over yours?
If just the thought about presenting in front of people makes you want to run away and hide, you need to fix the situation. At the very least you don’t want to be stuck where you are right now and watch your juniors surpass you and get promoted while you feel trapped.
Deep inside you know that there is a way out. You just need to be willing to try again and this time help yourself to succeed. Start with the following strategies for self-empowerment.
- The right kind of prepared.
What often happens to people who have anxiety giving a presentation or participating in a meeting is that they spend a lot of time remembering past disasters and imagining how everything is going to go wrong the next time they are in front of people trying to get their point across. In their minds they often reinforce a belief that they are simply not good at it, which leads to feelings of disappointment and decreases their motivation to take action to improve the situation.
So, when you think about your next challenge, rather than focusing on all the past wrongs and ‘why-I-failed’, focus on developing the right skills to help you to succeed now.
- Seriously, how long have you spent practising?
Let’s be realistic, most of us tend to under-prepare rather than over-prepare. If you don’t know your material well you will find it harder to get back on track. Being unprepared will increase your anxiety – you might forget important information and skip key points. Preparation is absolutely non-negotiable: you need to know your material well. During your practice, you might like to present to a trusted friend, your children or your partner. (Needless to say, first practise in front of people who can provide you with helpful suggestions and with whom you feel comfortable.) The more exposure and repetition, the better you will be at presenting.
- Do you know how to relax?
As well as practising speaking on a regular basis you need to learn how to relax. The more exposure and repetition the better you will be at presenting. You might choose yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, body-scan exercises or any other type of activity that will help you to shift from a state of heightened anxiety to a more peaceful state. As you allow anxiety to leave your body, notice how your body is changing from being tense and tight to heavy and relaxed. You might benefit from learning breathing techniques, where you pay attention to how your belly moves out as you inhale and to how it contracts as you exhale. Pay attention throughout the day to the way you breathe and if it is often shallow and fast then make a conscious effort to change it.
The more you practise breathing and relaxation the easier it will be for you to access these techniques when you need them the most. You need to ensure that you are alert but relaxed prior to your presentation.
- Avoid the most common mistakes.
I once heard someone say that he always suffered performance anxiety and became worried about the presentation he had to give because his boss did not give enough notice for him to prepare well. Without time to collect the data he needed at work and assemble the right information, he was so nervous that the night before he could not sleep and in the morning, after a few cups of coffee and not eating anything, he felt nauseous and so stressed he could barely introduce himself. As you’ve probably guessed, that did not go down well. Don’t make those mistakes – avoid stimulants, eat well, have a good night’s sleep beforehand, and have breakfast (but don’t experiment with new food) on the morning of the presentation. Of course it helps if you are already leading a healthy lifestyle and looking after your physical and mental health. If you don’t, then start today!
- What is it that you believe about yourself?
Some – or maybe even most – of us humans hold unhelpful or mistaken beliefs about ourselves and about the world. Some of us catastrophise, focusing on the negatives and discounting the positives. Others label themselves and others jump to ill-considered conclusions. There are many unhelpful beliefs out there and it is important that you know yours. What kind of beliefs do you think heighten your anxiety? Do you believe, for example, that everything has to be perfect otherwise you will feel like you failed? Or do you think people expect you to know everything on the topic and they might judge you harshly?
Right now, ask yourself: “What is it that I fear the most, and what stops me from taking risks at work?”. Such beliefs might have been with you for a very long time so it might be difficult to change them straight away. As a starting point, try to diffuse negative and self-defeating beliefs and thoughts. (You can learn about thought diffusion here.)
One of the worst things that can happen is when people surrender to anxiety and don’t persevere. By telling themselves, “This is who I am, I don’t think I can change”, they stop themselves from trying, and from progressing any further.
I know there is not a magic bullet or pill to fix the problem, and I am not saying that there is a one-step solution, but I am saying that you can overcome your anxiety. So don’t give up, you know that you deserve the promotion, you can provide a lot of value and you do perform well. Just give yourself a chance and free yourself from anxiety.
Once your have the right skills and attitude, anxiety won’t hold you back. If you would like to start fighting your anxiety today call us on 0426 263 101 and we would love to help you, or simply email us at email@example.com and let’s discuss the best way for you to succeed.