Saturday, August 4, 2007

Beating Performance Anxiety

Truthfully, one of my peer-coaches helped me with this situation. I was absolutely dreading doing a demonstration in one of my classes. Although I've received positive feedback in the past and have a long history of successful public speaking of one sort or another, I was filled with anxiety. Anticipating volunteering resulted in shortness of breath, racing heartbeat and a slightly sick feeling. It was like facing a pool from a high diving board; I know I can do it, but it doesn't seem like fun until it's over.

I tried to understand why this particular situation called up my gremlin. My gremlin is the little elf-like creature that lives inside my head evaluating me. In this particular situation he (yes, mine is male) was telling me that I was going to look like an idiot. Sometimes after the fact he informs me that I looked like an idiot or outlines the ways in which I looked stupid. Check out "Taming your Gremlin" by Rick Carson.

But why this situation? One of the big things was that I could not over-prepare. That's one of my strategies for giving a talk in public. Practice, practice, practice. You know, like the way to get to Carnegie Hall. It reduces my anxiety in a variety of ways: I get more confident knowing I'm able to get through the material without too much umming; I have a chance to actually feel myself getting less anxious by the third or so time I go through it; and I'm able to prepare for where I might not be able to be spontaneous when I'm nervous by putting in examples or jokes to use. Practicing quiets my gremlin.

When you do a demonstration with an unknown partner and unknown subject, you can't over-prepare. You don't know what's going to hit you.

So this is how I handled it. I went over all the things I was prepared with, identifying the skills I possessed to handle the situation. I reminded myself of all the similar situations in which I've been successful int he past. I came up with several extremely positive outcomes that could conceivably occur (e.g., people would love me and think I was just the hottest coach around; it IS conceivable, I swear).

Probably most important was my coach's suggestion that I inject some humor into the thing and plan for a celebration afterwards. I picked a song that would lighten things up for me and listened to it beforehand. I got two of my son's funny hats and had them on my desk. On one occasion I was actually wearing the hat. I decided I'd have some champagne when it was over, even though it was a work night.

After all this preparation I was much less anxious. My gremlin was now silent. I was viewing the demo with a lot more humor, not taking myself as seriously as I'm sometimes prone to doing. It went wonderfully. That glass of wine (okay, I didn't spring for the champagne) really felt well-deserved. And it was fun! Next time you have to "perform," figure out some creative ways to quiet the little voice in your head and calm your nerves. Then, take the plunge.

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