Hot tip for giving presentations or public speaking

October 18, 2018


For many people, delivering an important presentation or speech, starting on a new team, having a job interview or attending a networking event, can be an emotionally taxing process and one that many dread or avoid. However, avoidance is either not an option or if it is, it holds many people back from achieving their goals. With that in mind, what are some empirically supported methods of preparing for those anxiety plagued moments in your life and what is the hot tip?

Well known strategies
There are the usual preparatory methods of visualisation and practise, especially in the presence of someone or filming yourself; try to put yourself under pressure. It is imperative that you know your material and there are well researched learning and memory strategies that can help you learn and consolidate your knowledge.

Avoid Stage-Fright
On top of that you want to avoid freezing or forgetting everything because you are too anxious and are monitoring yourself and over-thinking your performance. If you know your material well, monitoring your performance can inhibit a smooth delivering because of the way the brain works.

Knowledge and skills that you have mastered become automatic processes controlled by the cerebellum, which controls complex motor tasks, and is not consciously accessible. However, monitoring your performance is a conscious process that is controlled by the cerebral cortex. When you are monitoring your performance these two processes interfere with each other and can cause you to freeze, forget your material or stumble on your words.

Power Poses
In addition to these strategies, there are “power poses”. Amy Cuddy, psychologist from Princeton University, gave a fascinating TED talk on power poses. When you stand up with your arms and legs spread and hold that position for two minutes it can help you come across as more confident. Amy Cuddy’s research found that holding the power pose for two-minutes can help you feel more confident when approaching a challenging situation. Her research found that after holding a power position for two minutes the participants not only reported feeling more confident and powerful, their levels of testosterone increased, and their cortisol decreased.

However other studies showed a down-side to power poses. That research found that what power poses actually did was made people more confident in their own thoughts at the time of doing the power pose. The research found that power posing increased self-confidence, but only among participants who already had positive self-thoughts. In contrast, power posing had the opposite effect on people who had negative self-thoughts; in fact, it lowered their self-confidence. Thus, it seems that power posing exacerbated the emotional state you were and did not change your emotional state. People who are already confident and self-assured benefit from power posing, but many people may be worse off.

So what is the hot tip in how to prepare for a challenging event? The answer is a behaviour called “priming”. Priming is the process of temporarily shifting your mind-set before a first meeting, presentation or any socially challenging situation; priming effects the attitude that you take to the situation.

To prime yourself you need to sit down beforehand and write, or type, about your goal for the event in the context of your larger career goals or life dreams and aspirations. You also include comments about your abilities, skills or attributes that you have that can help you achieve your goals. You can recall a time when you felt confident, powerful or especially satisfied with an achievement. There are no hard and fast rules about the content as long as it is positive and goal-oriented. You need to write a few paragraphs for at least five minutes.

Getting in the right mind-set is more than saying positive affirmations to yourself on the way to a meeting. Priming is a deliberate conscious action that requires you to stop and write for at least five minutes. Make your narrative energising and optimistic but also realistic.

It works. There is empirical evidence that shows people who do a priming task before a meeting or presentation are judged as more competent and confident when compared to a control group who did not do the priming task.

Come up with a few narratives for different situations and before your next challenging event plan to set aside some time to do the writing task.

I do also wonder, although I have not read any research on the topic, how doing a priming task first and then a two-minute power pose, might really give you that extra boost of confidence.

Either way, try doing a priming task. Do a trial run and just practise writing something down for five-minutes and then before your next challenge give it a go.

Thus, the hot tip when giving a presentation or interview is priming, perhaps followed by a two-minute power pose. However, you also need to know your material and practise your delivery under stressful conditions and try to avoid monitoring your performance.