If you’re at all fearful of public speaking, giving a TED Talk might just be your worst nightmare.
Imagine being asked to describe your life’s work in a roughly 15-minute segment that will eventually be broadcast to the entire world.
Wharton psychologist Adam Grant and Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy recently discussed this nerve-wracking experience and how they overcame it. Cuddy gave a TED Talk on power posing in 2012, and Grant gave one last month on the positive power of failure.
They both used a similar strategy for coping with their pre-performance jitters: Instead of focusing on themselves and how nervous they were, they got absorbed in the presentation before theirs.
I had the good fortune of speaking right after my good friend Tim Urban, who gave a hysterically funny and very insightful talk on procrastination. We’d been practicing together for months beforehand, and he delivered the best version of his talk. And I was so engrossed in flow that I forgot that I was speaking next, and I heard my name and said, “Ahh, gotta get on stage!”
He added later:
This is a great way not to be anxious. You focus on somebody else’s material and you’re not ruminating as much about your own issues.
Grant’s experience is especially interesting in light of scientific research that Cuddy highlights in her new book, “Presence.” Studies have found that being self-focused tends to make you more anxious — and vice versa.
So by focusing on
someone else instead of himself, Grant may have effectively alleviated some of his anxiety and performed better on the TED stage.
Meanwhile, Cuddy, who spoke after game designer Jane McGonigal, said:
So she starts speaking and I’m like, “How am I gonna follow this?” And then I’m like, “Whoa, I can learn so much from this.” And I actually watched her thinking, “I can learn from this. … What an amazing person, and to see this as a competition is so absurd and so self-destructive, so I’m gonna learn from this amazing person.”
Even if you’re not presenting at TED anytime soon, the same tricks might help you ace your next work presentation.
Try to shift your focus from your racing heart and thoughts to what other people around you are saying. You might even want to see what you can learn from other presentations before yours. Instead of feeling nervous, you might find yourself feeling motivated and inspired to take on the challenge.
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