9 Steps to Turning Anxiety into Positive Energy
Butterflies in the stomach. Wobbly knees. Anxiousness deep in your gut…
Some people are born to be in front of an audience. Then there are the rest of us, who through career choices, job responsibilities, advancement, and maybe even love of learning have found themselves in the role of presenter, speaker, or trainer. If you’re like me, you can probably relate to at least one of the above descriptions of nervousness.
It used to be that business presentations, sales meetings, and training workshops were in-person. Now virtual presentations and all the challenges of using the technology often add another layer of anxiousness.
The good news is that anxiety doesn’t have to be a hindrance. Pre-session nervousness – when you control it – can be positive. The adrenaline that causes your nervousness actually increases your energy. Whether it’s nervous energy or focused energy is up to you. Nervous energy can take over and sabotage your best efforts. Focused energy can increase interest and engagement.
So how do you harness the negative feelings of anxiety and convert them into useful positive energy?
Be yourself and work within your style.
Nothing can cause pre-session jitters faster than preparing to be someone you’re not. If you’re not comfortable telling anecdotal stories to reinforce a point or throwing out gum to celebrate good ideas during an in-person workshop, then don’t. Instead ask your participants to share a relevant story to reinforce your point. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to grow as a presenter. Many of the techniques effective speakers use in person or virtually to engage their audience are within your reach. But you should make them your own and work within your own style. Trying to be the speaker you admired at the seminar you attended last week will only heighten your nervousness.
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
This may be the easiest way to reduce pre-session nervousness. If you know your content – really know your content – you’ll feel more confident. Some presenters and trainers feel nervous because they are unsure about what they need to accomplish or uncertain about the content.
Giving a presentation on Q1 business results? Know the numbers, the story, the challenges, and the wins. Facilitating a virtual training session? Go through all the materials. Use the technology to watch the video, share your screen, set up polling questions and open the whiteboard. In other words, get comfortable with the content and how you are going to present it. Consider the content within the framework of your organization and anticipate questions.
Rehearse your first five minutes - over and over again.
For some, nervousness triggers uncomfortable physical reactions like a shaky voice, wobbly knees, or sweaty palms. To combat these physical reactions, mentally rehearse the first few minutes of your session. Do so, right up until the moment you’re “on.” Knowing your first few minutes cold gives you the time you need to overcome your anxiety. The physical discomfort you’re experiencing will pass – probably within the first few minutes. And, keep in mind that the tremble in your voice or the wobble in your knees is much more noticeable to you than to any of your participants.
Take a deep breath and smile.
Taking a deep breath (or two or three) forces you to concentrate on your breathing. Thinking about your breathing will help you regulate it and slow yourself down a bit. After inhaling and exhaling slowly, smile. What happens when we smile? Smiling is psychologically proven to help us feel better. And the odds are good someone will respond with a smile in return. (That goes for virtual sessions too!)
Turn on the energy!
Take a deep breath, smile, and… turn on the energy. You may find it helpful to think of your role as trainer or presenter as a persona you put on. When it’s “showtime,” make the choice to be energetic and enthusiastic. That type of positive energy is contagious.
Imagine your success.
Instead of thinking about all the things that might go wrong, focus your energy on your impending success. Performers of all types, athletes, and even politicians have reaped the benefits of positive mental imagery. Spend a few minutes before your session thinking about the positive response of your audience. Imagine their attentive faces, their smiles and nods, their laughs. Imagine their interest and appreciation for their opportunity to learn. And, while you’re at it, imagine them coming up to you at the end and telling you how much they learned and how glad they are that they attended your session. This is your positive mental image and yours alone. Make it all that you want it to be!
Eat healthy and sleep well.
This may sound elementary but it’s sound, practical advice. Eating a lot of junk food, drinking a lot of caffeine drinks and not getting enough sleep the evening before your presentation will add to your jitters and make your nervous stomach feel worse. No, we’re not suggesting that you need to eat tofu, kimchi or kale to give an effective presentation. And, yes, you can start your day with that much needed cup of coffee. But, be smart the night before. Think before you say yes to a heavy meal or a second helping and consider taking a half portion of that rich dessert. Eat light and smart before your session. Avoid high-fat foods and sugary snacks. In addition to making your nervous stomach feel worse, your energy level may take a dive. And, drink caffeine drinks cautiously. Too many may make you feel jittery and cause your throat to feel dry. Drink water instead.
Remember, only you know what you’re planning to say.
Okay, you’re prepared. Perhaps you’ve even practiced. But the idea that you might forget something or say something wrong continues to unsettle you. Keep in mind that your participants are along for the ride. They may have an understanding of the learning objectives but they don’t know your plan. They don’t know what you’re going to say or how you’re going to deliver the content. Sure, you have a responsibility to cover the content and address the learning objectives but if you do so, you really can’t do anything wrong. You may just do it differently than you planned and if so, you’ll be the only one who knows!
Enthusiastically greet attendees.
Greeting attendees may ease some of your nervousness because you’re not jumping onstage cold. So, if you’re in person, smile, shake hands, and introduce yourself. If you’re greeting your audience virtually, be warm and welcoming. Consider sharing something about yourself in the Chat box and encourage your audience to do the same.
Whether you’re facilitating a training workshop or giving a business presentation, tame that nervousness and anxiety and turn it into positive energy. And most importantly, enjoy yourself and your audience will too.
Michele Chiarella is Media Partners' Senior Learning Experience Designer.