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How can I help calm someone's performance anxiety?

We know that self-assurance in a speaker encourages audiences to be more receptive from the start. Conversely, people who look insecure on stage raise doubts about their competency immediately.

In companies and social groups, we often want to hear from those doing the work, with first hand knowledge of the issues involved. Unfortunately, these people can be too anxious and self-conscious in a group to do justice to their own expertise.

In small groups, I start taking notes to demonstrate how I value what they are saying. Later in a discussion I may ask them, not what they think, nor what answer is best, but which stood out to them — minimal challenge.

We may need such people before a larger audience only on isolated occasions, and they will never be public speakers.

One option is to interview them on stage. They are having a one-to-one conversation still, just with a crowd listening in.

Someone told me it helps the nerves if we imagine the audience in their underwear. I will not be suggesting that at my local church.

What other techniques, stratagems and self-talk do we have to allay the anxieties of occasional speakers?

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    This is extremely broad. Can you narrow it down to a certain type of interaction or people? (ie; work, school, family, or such?)
    – Erik
    Jan 11 '18 at 9:44
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    This is not about interpersonal relationships.
    – Markino
    Jan 11 '18 at 9:52
  • @Markino good point, I edited the question to more clear what I'm asking.
    – Boat
    Jan 11 '18 at 9:58
  • @Boat, yep, got it and answered.
    – Markino
    Jan 11 '18 at 10:07
  • Does this rewrite bring the question back on topic? If so, do you re-open the question? Apr 25 '18 at 13:45
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How can I help calming someone's anxiety about people?

By being there for him/her.

In many cases, like in this one, words or theories are useless.

If this person is a friend or in anyway someone close to you for whom you do care a lot, try to be there in some form. Say he/she is giving a public speech, try to be in the audience (and tell him/her beforehand, "I'll be there") or maybe backstage, and smile when he/she happens to make eye contact with you.

The presence of loved ones is always the best medicine for the soul. For example, at funerals, you don't really need to say anything: those grieving their departed ones simply appreciate your presence.

If you can't be there, offer to call before and after the anxiogenous event, and in my case it worked to give this person some material sign representing me he/she could morally cling to (e.g. a necklace or a pikachu miniature).

If the person is not close to you, well then, it's more of a job for a psychologist, imo.

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  • The question has been edited drastically since you posted your answer. You might want to re-read it and adjust your answer.
    – kscherrer
    Apr 25 '18 at 8:55
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Fears are often of the unknown. When it comes to public speaking, experience is vital. Very few people are "natural" public speakers, for most it is a learned skill. As you point out, a person is often of interest as a speaker because of their knowledge or skill in a particular field, and they may have no speaking experience.

In my opinion there are worse situations than a nervous speaker. An enthusiastic and confident speaker who in fact knows nothing about the subject is equally infuriating. Equally, someone can be entirely without nerves yet be monotone, dry in their delivery, and humourless.

Your suggestion to have an experienced speaker interview the "expert" in their field is a good one. The interviewer can act as an "everyman" and this draws out the real speaker to deliver information in a way that more people will understand. This may also give the "expert" the needed experience of being on stage, seeing how an audience reacts, and could give them the confidence to directly deliver a talk in the future.

But to directly answer your question of how to calm someone's anxiety (presuming that they have agreed to a talk and have nerves, or need some persuading to get over their nerves) there are a few things that may help:

  1. There are practical steps a person can take to be more prepared, and therefore more confident. Encourage them to write out a talk verbatim to begin with. They should practice the talk many times over out loud and if possible in the room where it will be delivered. If this isn't possible, at least practice in the same position (standing or seated) as they will finally deliver it. As they practice out loud, correct any parts of the script that do not sound right and adjust the draft. Once happy with it, they should work to reduce the script to notes with the goal of speak extemporaneously. One methodology is to use words like show, tell, explain in the margin to denote which parts you can put into your own words, which bits need to be read to get the details correct, and where you need to point to a textbook or powerpoint for example.
  2. The most encouraging things you can say to reduce nerves are to avoid platitudes like "it will be fine" which only dismiss their fears, and instead focus on positives. Tell them that it is their expertise people are interested in, not their speaking ability. Put across points from my earlier paragraphs - namely that an audience will be far more interested in hearing from a genuine expert with a few nerves than someone who can speak confidently but knows nothing. Tell them that the audience wants them.
  3. Many speakers feel more confident with a bit of a "comfort object". It may sound crazy, but standing in front of a crowd with empty hands can make a person feel self-conscious. You may have noticed that many teachers, lecturers hold a marker pen in their hands whilst talking, even if they have no intention of using it. A laser pointer, a hand pointer, or a marker pen can give a strange confidence boost - so even if they don't need to use it much, suggest some use of an object like this to get it into their hands and you might see a big change!
  4. Although people expect multimedia presentations these days, I actually hate Powerpoint slides because non-confident speakers use these as a "comfort object" and end up just reading the slides (boring - the audience know what is coming), and worse still, facing the screen with their back to the audience. If you think this will happen, discourage their use and use handouts instead.

These are all from my personal experience, some may disagree, and I can't quote anything to back them up. But the practical stuff certainly works for me every time. I hope it is of some use here.

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    The question has been edited drastically since you posted your answer. You might want to re-read it and adjust your answer.
    – kscherrer
    Apr 25 '18 at 8:56

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