“Man, I hope this goes better than my last presentation.”
“I’m ready. I've prepared as much as possible. I can do this.”
“This is going to be challenging, but it's important that I speak up on this issue.”
“I wish my supervisor would have picked someone else to give this presentation.”
Everyone approaches public speaking with a different mindset. But just how much does your mindset affect your presentation? Let's take a look at a study by Thomas, Tymon, Jr. and Thomas published in The Journal of Business Communication. This research studied the different mindsets people adopt when faced with public speaking fear. It turns out that some mindsets lead to greater communication anxiety while others lead to reduced communication anxiety. Knowing what they are can help us guide our thoughts before we have to give a presentation.
The 4 Mindsets
Read through the 4 different mindsets that people usually have before giving a presentation. See if you can identify which one you usually have.
- Deficiency focusing: Deficiency focusing is the tendency to focus on the negative. People with this mindset spend time thinking about what went wrong last time they presented, or what could go wrong this time.
- Skill Recognition: Skill recognition is the degree to which someone believes she has control over the outcome of her presentation. In other words, if it goes well, she attributes that to her skills and abilities.
- Envisioning Success: Envisioning success is pretty much what it sounds like. People with this mindset take time to picture what success looks like. They build a mental picture of an outcome that is positive.
- Necessitating: Necessitating is focusing on the presentation as something that has to be done. People with this mindset see the communication as an obligation rather than something that they want to participate in.
Higher Stress Levels
You can probably guess which of the different mindset types in the study led to higher stress levels. If you guessed deficiency focusing and necessitating, you are right. The participants who had negative mindsets experienced higher levels of communication anxiety. While we can’t simply “think” our way to a better speech, we can do our best to stop negative thinking when it occurs, knowing that it only leads to increased stress.
Lower Stress Levels
On the other hand, those in the study who had skill recognition and envisioning success mindsets had lower levels of communication anxiety. This makes sense because with these mindsets you are focusing on your control and competence and you are picturing positive outcomes. Take some time before your next speech to think about what you do well, and visualize yourself succeeding.
One final note: This study also found that the time spent practicing seemed to have very little effect on how nervous the speakers felt. That was surprising to me. But I don't think that means we need to de-emphasize the importance of practice. I think it means we need to elevate the importance of mindset. We need to understand that adopting the right mindset is just as important as practicing for a presentation. Shaping our mindset must become an integral part of our preparation process.
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