How to turn presentation nerves into an effortless performance

Presentation NervesI often work with highly competent professionals who want to rid themselves of the fear and panic involved in public speaking. What usually brings them to see me is a building feeling of anxiety about an upcoming presentation with all the associated physical symptoms of sweaty palms, tight throat, pounding heart and fast breathing.

Hypnotic intervention for panic responses experienced during presenting is very effective.
The goal for me is always to help the client bring their physical response back under control by uncoupling the negative experiences, beliefs and emotions they have associated with presenting. But, I don’t seek to take that physiological response away completely – here’s why…

When I’m not in the therapy room, I spend my time learning and performing trapeze. I know the incredible power of a natural shot of adrenaline before a performance. That anticipatory load of chemicals makes me strong, strong enough to perform moves that I sometimes struggle to complete in rehearsal. These chemicals also slow time right down, which allows me to have the luxury of ensuring my hand is positioned perfectly on the bar so I can execute my next move with confidence.

This heightened state of consciousness experienced by performers is called Flow. The term was originally coined in the 1980’s by positive psychology researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi when referring to an optimal state of performance. Flow is a state of focused or concentrated attention. In that state, time distorts – seconds stretching and slowing down during a performance or hours washing away in an eye blink as you’re completely immersed in a piece of work that you’re creating.

A ten-year study conducted by McKinsey found that top executives in flow are 5 times more productive than out of flow. In the New York Times bestseller, The Rise of Superman, author Steven Kolter explains that in the flow state the brain’s prefrontal cortex is shut down. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that houses the inner critic. When that critical voice is silenced we are no longer self-conscious or self-critical, and we are free to create and to perform.

Kolter describes the path to attaining flow:

The first stage of the flow cycle is known as struggle, which feels really unpleasant most of the time. Struggle gives way to release… and that triggers the actual flow state itself.

The key message here for those seeking optimum performance – whether that is in the athletic, artistic, creative or intellectual arena, is to realise that those early tingles which in the past you may have labelled as nerves, anxiety or fear are actually the precursors to flow. Those tingles are telling you that if you stick with it, holding a clear belief and vision of a successful outcome, that you can step through the doorway into flow where you can “be swept up by the river of ultimate human performance”.

So the next time you have the opportunity to take a risk by speaking up, I encourage you to recognise the opportunity that is available to you, the opportunity to step through the doorway and experience yourself in flow.

Image Credit: TOM81115 via Flickr