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This is what you need to do to overcome negative self-talk

Speaking failures are memorable. But fixating on them isn’t going to help you be a better presenter.

This is what you need to do to overcome negative self-talk
[Photo: Niklas Hamann/Unsplash]

What goes through your mind when someone clips a microphone on you? I’m guessing that you won’t feel much physical sensation, but you’ll have a flood of emotional reactions because of what it symbolizes.

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When someone was putting a mic on one of my clients, she immediately said, “Please put the mic here–I don’t want to see an antenna sticking out of my head. I guess I’m high maintenance.”

I applaud her first statement for being clear and direct. All of you, whenever you have a mic, should be concerned about having an antenna sticking out of your head–the Martian look is definitely a detractor from projecting leadership presence.

So is negative self-talk. Here’s how to get beyond that impulse to put yourself down, and be in the best position to command respect before you give a presentation.

Focus on the good, not the bad and the ugly

The easiest way to counter negative talk is to visualize yourself in a moment that makes you feel safe and calm. For me, that means stretching out on the beach with my eyes closed as I feel the warm breeze on my skin. Your image might look completely different from mine–but whatever you choose, think of a strong image to balance the built-up tension. Don’t get fixated on that pimple that appeared this morning.

Focus on succeeding rather than failing

Failures are extremely memorable. Whether your experience occurred in kindergarten or grad school, you’re probably still thinking about it many years later. You then get tense and anxious, and you say to yourself, “What if it happens again? I failed before; I can fail again.”

You know it’s counterproductive to think like this, but you can’t help it. That’s why you need to direct your mind to a different place. Don’t focus on what could go wrong; concentrate on what can go right.

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One of my clients was a heavy weight-lifting champion. In the final round of a big championship, he dropped the weight, was injured, and almost died. But then he healed, trained, and competed again. I asked him how he overcame his fear. He said he focused on succeeding.

As you prepare to speak, picture yourself speaking confidently. You don’t have to think about giving a presentation. Just picture moments with your family, friends, or even your dog. The key is getting your mind to a relaxed state. The “how” doesn’t matter.

Stop worrying about your vocabulary

How many times did you worry about saying the wrong word before you open your mouth? You think that your words will come out wrong, or that you won’t sound sophisticated. You worry about mispronunciation.

If you get stuck in this loop, you may never get out. The average speaker in a normal conversation makes a mistake every 4.6 seconds, according to Erving Goffman.

Focus on your message rather than your words. What do you want the audience to come away with? What new insights and takeaways do you want to get across? Your audience isn’t going to care about your range of vocabulary if they feel a sense of connection with what you’re saying.

Focus on feelings, not faces

When you’re feeling nervous, you’ll probably start to look for smiling faces in the audience, hoping to assuage any bad feelings you might have. This is a natural thought, but it’s not a productive one. Your audience’s facial expression probably has nothing to do with what you’re saying.

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To convey confidence, you need to focus on what will take you forward, not what held you back in the past. Negative self-thought can feel crippling, but there are steps you can take to prevent that from happening. Every presentation is an opportunity to make a fresh start. Don’t let your past experiences take you away from that.

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About the author

Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc. and the author of the new e-book, CEO Speaking: The 6-Minute Guide. Since 1979, Executive Speaking has pioneered breakthrough approaches to helping leaders from all over the world--including leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies--develop leadership presence, communicate complexity, and speak with precision and power

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