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Three Tips for Combating Presentation or Interview Anxiety

You know it’s coming. You can feel it in the pit of your stomach. Your hands are clammy, and beads of sweat form on your forehead.

You notice that you are breathing heavily, and you can feel the butterflies in your stomach. As bad as the physical symptoms are, the mental symptoms are even worse. “I’m going to bomb this” keeps echoing in your head. “I’m a failure. I’m a loser. Everyone is going to laugh at me.”

Whether you are delivering a presentation, interviewing for an internship, or performing live onstage, we’ve all felt the iron grip of anxiety, and it can be devastating. Learning to control anxiety is an essential step toward leadership and success, and these three tips will help you on your way.

#1: Prepare.

The most important way to project confidence through nerves or butterflies is to ensure you have adequately prepared for the task at hand. The experts agree that most people don’t prepare nearly as much as they should. For example, presentation expert Nancy Duarte suggests spending 36-90 hours preparing for an important one-hour presentation. Similarly, the Harvard Business Review stresses preparation before a job interview: “Master the available information on the institution. Read everything you can find about the company and the job – from public sources, the company web site, and anything they send you. Study the written job description and the requirements for candidates.” Consider how much time you actually spend preparing for the life events that make you nervous, and then be sure to increase your preparation time.

#2: Breathe Deeply.

Taking control of your body will help you beat the physical symptoms caused by your nerves. Have you ever noticed that when you’re startled, your heart rate speeds up and your breathing increases? When you are anxious, your body naturally prepares you for fight or flight. Taking back control of your body begins with your breath. Close your eyes and focus on inhaling deeply and then exhaling as slowly as you can. If you can control your breath, you can control your heart rate, and taking back control of your body is essential for controlling those physical symptoms of fear such as shaking hands, restless legs, and trembling voice. After you take control of your body, it’s time to taking control of your mind…

#3: Think Positively.

Taking control of your mind is one of the most difficult challenges we face when we’re anxious or nervous. After we control anxiety’s physical symptoms by deep breathing and slowing our heart rate, it’s important that we control those mental symptoms. Engage in positive self-talk. Imagine how much better you’ll feel about yourself if you get rid of those negative, self-defeating thoughts like “you’re going to choke” or “this sucks.” Instead, when you feel those negative thoughts creeping in, make a conscious decision to change your thoughts. This is a challenge! Transform “I’m going to bomb this” to “I’ve worked hard and thoroughly prepared, so I am ready for this” in your mind. Communication coach Dr. Nick Morgan suggests picturing someone you love right before you head into that interview or onstage for that performance. It’s hard to let those negative thoughts creep in with someone you love on your mind!

According to Forbes, it’s not about getting rid of anxiety completely but rather “learning how to master the aversive moods anxiety creates.” If you didn’t feel nervous or anxious about some things, you wouldn’t be a human being. We have to accept some stress and fear as normal. Be sure to remind yourself that anxiety is a naturally occurring reaction to life’s events. Accept some anxiousness as absolutely normal – and prepare, practice deep breathing, and think positively.

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