I've suggested, in the past, that few people suffer from a genuine fear of public speaking, but almost everybody is nervous about it. At Communispond, we have always treated this nervousness as beneficial. One of our most cited presentation tips is to change this nervousness to excitement and use it to your advantage by letting it increase your energy level.
It’s gratifying to see that science seems to be catching up with our presentation tips. The American Psychological Association published an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General® where Alison Wood Brooks reported on several experiments that show ramping up your excitement level improves your performance in a number of tasks.
Of the experiments described, the one I found most amusing involved karaoke. Experimenters assigned 113 participants at random to say before singing a song that they were in one of five states: anxious, excited, calm, angry, or sad. They then compared participants’ score for pitch, rhythm, and volume, as measured by the karaoke system. Those who said they were excited achieved an average score of 80%. Those who said they were calm, angry, or sad scored 69%, and those who said they were anxious scored 53%. That suggests even more presentation tips: say out loud what you want to be – maybe your subconscious is listening!
Karaoke is one thing. Business presentations are another. When it comes to presentation tips, however, another experiment hit the nail on the head. In this one, 140 participants were supposed to prepare persuasive public speeches. The topic: Why I would be a good work partner. The experimenters videotaped the speeches and, to increase anxiety, told the participants they would be judged by a committee. Participants were assigned to say either “I am excited” or “I am calm” before delivering their speeches. The performances were then rated by independent evaluators. The presenters who said they were excited were judged to be more persuasive, competent, and relaxed than those who said they were calm.
“The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel,” said Brooks, who is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. “When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well.”
So there are two presentation tips we can tease out of this research: 1) excitement is a positive state, and the way it increases your energy level can help you give a better presentation, and 2) just saying how you want to feel is likely to make you begin feeling that way.