Have you ever gotten that horrible feeling in your stomach moments before you present your studio project? That kind that makes it feel like you can’t breathe, your heart is racing a mile a minute and you can swear you’ll pass out if you try standing up. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed, we’ve all had this feeling at one point or another. Yes... me too. Oh my gosh do I ever get social anxiety about presenting. Your hands start shaking to the point where you don’t even want to gesture or point to your drawings / models because you’re afraid the critics will see your tremble. You feel like you can’t hear yourself and therefore can’t tell if you’re speaking too fast, too slow, or jeepers forbid not at all. This is all classified under the DSM-V (fancy Psych book called Diagnostic & Statistical Manual) as social anxiety. IN NO WAY AM I SAYING YOU HAVE SOCIAL ANXIETY. For the purposes of this, I am using social anxieties' etiology and treatment as a researched method into overcoming presentation anxiety. There have been countless studies done on students and anxiety, and under those more specifically, public speaking and anxiety (Strahan, 2002). For social anxiety, the most successful approach to treat it is cognitive behavioural therapy (Clark et al., 2006). This means that, for the most part, social fears are due to faulty, maladaptive, or unhelpful thinking patterns and can be improved through cognitive restructuring. If you didn’t understand a word I just said I’ll rephrase below with non-psych terms:
So how do you get through this problem of presentation fears? I call it a problem because it can only get worse if you don’t actively and properly regulate it. Through mentally training yourself (cognitive therapy) to prepare for the crit, you can become a successful presenter. Here’s what Veale (2003) suggests:
-Modifying negative self images: You are here, and you are here for a reason. Instead of entering the presentation thinking you are quiet and timid, enter it like you deserve to be there. Through self-fulfilling prophecy (creating a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true), you’ll actually do better with confidence.
-Shift your attentional focus: Instead of focusing on how you think you come across as, focus on the social and attentional cues that truly depict how you come across. For example, if you think you’re all awkward and quiet, focus on how the audience is responding, AKA read the room. I love bringing in a relaxed and comfortable demeanour to my crit. Laugh with them, keep it loose, but read the room if it’s not working. This one is pretty tough to do without losing train of thought, so be careful.
Here’s what Stanford University suggests:
-Breathe deeply: This is a personal must for me. Always spend at least one minute breathing in for 6-8 seconds, then exhale for 6-8.
-Get enough sleep and have a good breakfast: Although majority of us will struggle with this one, it is still important.
-Speak loudly and with confidence: Relating back to self-fulfilling prophecy, if you speak with a loud, confident voice you will actually start to believe and feel you are. It works against you too; if you go into the presentation thinking you’ll do bad or your drawings suck, chances are you’ll start actually presenting bad and feeling worthless. This is always the bad day example. The one where people say if you’re having a bad day, try smiling a lot. After a while you’ll actually start feeling happy. That one.
-Keep good posture: Stand with a confident body language. I like to face forward at the audience and talk with my hands. Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy suggests that keeping your hands engaged with your conversation actually helps the audience stay in tuned and keep the attention on you. Good profs know to do this in lecture so sleepy students pay attention and keep their eyes on them.
-Stop seeing your presentation as a performance: Rather, look at it as a “person-to-person conversation.” Just you having a conversation to your critics.
There’s an important saying I learned in a business class where we had to present a lot: “nervousness is a sign of respect. It shows that you care about the audience you are presenting to.” This was a long post today but I hope this has been helpful in overcoming those presenting anxieties you may have for your upcoming crit. Have a good holiday break Daniels, good luck in your final reviews, and I’ll see you in the New Year with new SWS posts. Keep it classy this holiday season.