If its possible, before I give a talk I try to go and sit in a bathroom.
Hopefully I’m alone as I start with a few deep breaths and then meditate for a few minutes.
With my mind clear, I open my eyes and say, “I’m excited.”
Because even though I did a short meditation, public speaking, whether it’s 5 people or 500 does create a little bit of anxiety. It’s a very vulnerable state. We’re opening ourselves up for criticism, ridicule, and possible embarrassment.
This is why public speaking almost always tops the list for what we fear most. It even ranks higher than dying! I guess the consolation is you can’t hear the criticism if you’re dead.
Almost any public speaker will tell you even if they like doing it, they still experience some anxiety beforehand.
Because here’s what’s happening.
Your brain is screaming at you, begging you not to do it!
What if you forget what you want to say?
What if they don’t like your ideas?
What if they don’t laugh at your joke?
For your brain, this is a life-threatening situation – DON’T DO IT!!! it pleads.
And yet, your torn.
Because on the other hand, what if your idea is well received? Maybe you’ll make a difference in someone’s life by sharing your message, or get funding for a new project that’s going to help millions of people.
In that moment your head is spinning so fast you don’t know what’s up from down.
This is why telling yourself to calm down is the worst thing you can do. It just creates more anxiety and fear.
Instead turn it around.
Simply say, “I’m excited.”
Because the physiological difference between being excited and anxious is ZERO!
You FEEL exactly the same: sweaty palms, heart racing, butterflies in your stomach…
The only difference is your mind-set and that makes all the difference.
Can You Really Turn Anxiety Into Excitement?
Alison Brooks, a Professor at Harvard Business School devised a simple study to see if this was true.
She took 113 people, divided them into three groups and asked them to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” into a karaoke video machine. They were all matched for pitch and familiarity with the song.
Before singing, one group was told to say, “I’m anxious,” another, “I’m excited,” and the last group weren’t given any instructions before being handed the mic.
The group that said, “I’m excited,” outperformed the other two groups, in terms of volume and pitch (as measured by the video machine).
In another experiment, participants had to give a short public talk. They were told to either say, “I am calm” or “I am excited” before the talk.
Three independent judges rated their performance, with the group saying, “I am excited” as the winner.
In another study two groups were asked to solve some math problems. One group was instructed to say, “I’m excited” before the task and the other “I am calm.”
Guess who performed best?
The group that said, “I’m excited.”
Getting your brain to flip on a dime from a high arousal state (anxiety) to a low arousal state (calm) is incredibly difficult and most people have not acquired the skills to do that.
Also depending on the task: public speaking, closing a big sale, being interviewed – you want to be a little aroused otherwise your audience is going to fall asleep! A little stress (and I am stressing the word “little” here) can be a very good thing.
Do you think Tony Robbins is calm or excited before he goes on stage? If you’ve ever seen him, you know he’s excited, he’s passionate and it’s contagious. Everyone in the audience is feeling it too.
And you want the passion for your message to shine through too.
Get Creative With This Anxiety Changing Brain-Hack
Going to the DMV for a driver’s test… “I’m excited to be taking this test, so I can get my driver’s license!”
Facing a difficult conversation… “I’m excited to have this conversation and get this disagreement resolved.”
Heading to a party where you don’t know anyone… “I’m excited to see who I might meet.” This is a particularly good one for those of us that are ambiverts and introverts – instead of dreading it (which is what we normally do) get yourself excited – you might just have a good time!
It’s such an easy thing to do and it can CHANGE everything!
When you’re anxious or nervous about an upcoming event it makes you small, tentative and afraid – you start looking for ways to back out and that may not be in your best interest.
But when you’re excited, you’re pumped up, you feel energetic and you start looking forward to it!
Try this out for yourself and see if you can turn your performance anxiety into a superpower. Oh and by the way, I’m really excited you read this post! 😀