According to Wikipedia, social anxiety is “a discomfort or a fear when a person is in social interactions that involve a concern about being judged or evaluated by others.”
I think we’ve all experienced social anxiety at some point in our lives. Most of us had some degree of self-consciousness or shyness when we were young. Or certain circumstances have inspired the experience: We’re sitting down for an important job interview, or we’re walking into a networking event filled with people we’ve never met before, or we’re getting up to speak in front of a room full of decision-makers whose job it is of assessing me.
It’s this last circumstance that most commonly brings about feelings of anxiety. Experts believe as many as 75% of Americans have some level of discomfort around public speaking. And most of these 75% feel enough anxiety to avoid the challenge of presenting altogether.
This is a shame, because presenting is a hugely valuable activity for anyone interested in their career. People who can present themselves are more visible to their peers, more known, more readily hirable, and better thought of by employers because they’re capable of representing their organization positively to the public.
Being someone who suffered a fair amount of social anxiety as a young person and got past it through solid guidance and a lot of practice, I want to share five suggestions for keeping anxiety from getting in your way so that you can present yourself and move yourself forward for the rest of your life.
1) Redefine “presenting yourself” as something you’re doing whenever you’re around anyone. This might seem counterintuitive, because if you’re nervous about presenting yourself and you entertain the idea that maybe you’re presenting yourself all the time, that idea might shut you down perpetually. But actually the opposite is true. You’re going to reduce the anxiety of the previously “important” moments by treating all of your moments as important. Basically, you’re practicing presenting all the time. Start thinking of every interaction with every cashier, every waitress, every stranger on the street as a performance. See if you can elicit some degree of positive response in that other person, even if your interaction with them can be measured in seconds.
2) Start really looking at the people you’re talking to, and focusing on them. I don’t necessarily mean staring at them, and I don’t mean making them feel like they’re under a microscope. But really *see* them. The more you focus on the people you’re talking to, the more you take the attention off of yourself, and the better you’ll show up.
3) Look for useful feedback from your audience, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get it. Connecting with your audience is absolutely vital. It sets you up as a leader of the presentation. Even more importantly, it can provide you with some potentially very useful information about how you’re landing with the people you’re talking to: You can see people nod in understanding and smile in approval. You can see it when it’s present, and it’s helpful when it is. But when you just get blank stares or closed eyes or yawns or distracted looks, don’t let it *mean* anything. Don’t conclude there’s a problem. There are an infinite number of reasons why these things show up on people’s faces, and you don’t need to worry about each and every one of them.
4) Don’t fight the anxiety, don’t hate yourself for it, just notice it. If you fight it, you’ll likely make it worse. And if you hate yourself for it, you’ll project negativity. But if you notice it, you’re no longer judging yourself for having it, you’re just making note of it. It’s kind of like noticing that you have clothes on, or that you’re breathing. Acknowledging something and allowing it to be radically reduces it’s ability to stand in our way, and radically increases our ability to work with it.
5) Don’t just notice the anxiety, appreciate it. We’ve worked with stage actors who have told us that they *need* their stage fright to project stage presence. Their anxiety is their fuel — it powers their performance. If you can get to the point where you are worried about *not* having anxiety, you’ve gotten to a truly awesome place.
What do you think of all this? What questions do you have about these tips? What tips of your own do you have? Share your thoughts below! And if you’re interested in further strengthening the ability to present yourself, join us at Winning Presence For Make-or-Break Moments on Thursday, Feb 27.