On the Screen: I Am Nervous (Updated)

On the finale of America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 11, Tyra Banks gives a useful piece of advice about nervousness to finalists McKey and Samantha before their runway show:

How are we feeling? A little nervous? It’s okay to say “I am nervous.” Because when you do the “I’m not nervous [freaking out], I’m not nervous [freaking out more]!” When you say “I am nervous,” it just relaxes it, it gets it out.

As the popular saying (attributed to Carl Jung) goes, that which you resist persists. Therefore, by saying you’re not nervous, you’ll only make yourself more nervous. But if you start out by admitting that you are nervous, you can actually make progress toward feeling less nervous by using one of the many techniques that I’ve shared on this blog or in the Nervousness chapter of The Science of Speaking.

Update (6/29/17): Here’s a relevant article on accepting social anxiety, published a few days ago in Psychology Today.

From the Lab: You Can Do It!

In a 2014 study by Sandra Dolcos and Dolores Albarracin, reported by BPS Research Digest’s Christian Jarrett, they found that when it comes to motivating yourself, saying “you can do it” is better than “I can do it.” Participants who were instructed to tell themselves “you can do it” reported greater motivation to solve a set of puzzles and actually succeeded in solving more puzzles than participants who told themselves “I can do it.” This effect also held true for exercising: participants who told themselves “you can do it” reported more positive attitudes toward exercising and expressed greater intentions to exercise in the coming week than those who told themselves “I can do it.”

As for why this might be, the researchers “speculate that second-person self-talk may have this beneficial effect because it cues memories of receiving support and encouragement from others,” which, as we’ve seen before, can be an effective method for calming your nerves. This study goes one step further to suggest that we might be able to provide this for ourselves, simply by speaking to ourselves in the second person.

From the Lab: Three New Techniques for Easing Your Nerves

I’m always looking for new ways to help nervous speakers, and yesterday, Sara Seamons of GoReact delivered in a great article at Presentation Guru. The whole article is worth a read, but here’s an executive summary of the findings.

  1. In a recent study, researchers found that how nervous you feel is directly correlated to how prepared you feel, which supports my advice in The Science of Speaking to know your content, your audience, and your setting. The less uncertainty there is surrounding your speech, the less nervous you will feel about it.
  2. In the same study, researchers found that making positive associations about speaking can also significantly reduce your speaking anxiety. While in The Science of Speaking, I show how visualization can help you do this, this study revealed another way: to receive positive feedback on your speech. Whether it’s positive feedback from your instructor and peers in a public speaking class, or simply positive feedback that you solicit from a friend, being told that you’re actually pretty awesome at speaking can significantly reduce your speaking anxiety.
  3. According to several other studies, recording your presentations and watching them afterwards can significantly reduce your speaking anxiety as well. While it’s not always the easiest thing for us to do, watching ourselves on video is a great way of get a realistic view of how we’re doing, which feeds straight back into strategy #2. (Seamons’ company, GoReact, provides an easy way to do this—more on this in a future post.)

While it can often seem like there’s nothing we can do about our stage fright, science shows that this belief is unfounded. There are many different strategies that have been found effective, you just have to know where to look.