Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Managing Fears and Anxieties

Feeling some pangs of anxiety? It’s helpful to understand how fear affects us physically. Derived from the Greek word for almond, the amygdala sits in the brain's medial temporal lobe, a few inches from either ear. The amydgala fires off circuits when it senses you are in danger and alerts the body to flee, fight or freeze. Physical reactions may range from an accelerated heart-beat to shaky knees or a dry mouth. These are natural and involuntary reactions that are wired into our animal brain.

After the first involuntary response, you can effectively manage and minimize nervousness by your expectations of the situation, your self-image (self-appreciation) and your self-talk. Interpret any physical discomfort as normal. Do not exaggerate by saying to yourself, “I’ll never live through this.” Chill out for 10-15 seconds allowing signals from the amydagala to reach the cortex where you can make a rational decision instead of an emotional one to the current situation. Fear will diminish as you objectively observe what is going on in your body such as increased pulse or perspiration.

You may instinctively react by taking shallow, frequent breaths. This creates tension in the muscles in your upper gastrointestinal tract, which can irritate your stomach. If you are truly upset, those muscles start to “flutter” – hence the expression – butterflies in your stomach - making you feel queasy.

Begin slow deep breathing. Normally, the brain uses one-fourth of the blood supply. In stressful situations, the blood rushes to our muscles and the brain is shortchanged. We can’t think well, ad-lib, be funny or creative. A conscious choice of “circle breathing” or “heart breathing” is a great way to switch off the stress hormones and get back to normal. Just before you’re introduced, practice deep breathing and see the calming breath going to any parts of the body that feel tense – neck, back, jaws, etc.

Be relaxed but stay alert. We’re not trying to achieve total relaxation. We would be devoid of energy; you want some adrenaline flowing. You're working for relaxed alertness, ready to respond and adapt to the audience.

Get more sleep. The amydgala are triggered more frequently and react in a stronger fashion when we are fragmented or fatigued, especially if you fly to a different time-zone. Your body will be more responsive if you schedule a massage and relax instead of last minute cramming.

Focus on the audience and your objective. John Aylward, veteran stage and television actor, says that he doesn’t experience stage fright as he is concentrating on the task at hand. He doesn’t have time to allow negative thoughts to intrude. Think about creative ways of calling up images in the audience’s mind and your mind won’t be capable of indulging in past negative memories or predicting future failures.

Your biggest fear should be of boring the audience. Would you like to hear yourself speak? Are you fun to watch? Do you entertain as well as inform your audience? Is your information useful? Say to yourself, “I’ll never bore my audience again!” Get your audience involved, discovering, laughing, thinking, and understanding. You will be so centered on your goal and enjoying yourself, your fears will diminish and your self- confidence increase.

"I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I have never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do" … Georgia O'Keefe, artist

Books: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Carmine Gallo. Learn how Steve Jobs electrifies his audiences with his incomparable style and showmanship. He tells a story, paints a picture and shares a vision. You will find lots of ideas to apply to your next presentation.

Website: This is the best site on the web to watch the best and brightest speakers in the world. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Speakers are usually limited to 18 minutes and many break every speaking rule you’ve learned. But their information is so compelling and they are so charismatic, you will be mesmerized. Do keep going back to analyze their styles of delivery and see what you can adapt to your presentation style.

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