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Performing in front of a group of other students, colleagues and your lecturers is an inextricable part of the student experience here at Brookes. In principle, this is a fairly straightforward task. Yet speaking in public can unsettle or frighten some students.
This information is for those students who become anxious at the thought, or the reality, of presenting their work to others – even though they are well prepared. It also provides useful transferable skills with especial reference to interview techniques.
Presentation anxiety is a response to fear and it manifests itself in a number of ways. Physical symptoms include – for example – blushing, shaking, stuttering, sweating, or being tongue tied.
Mentally, anxiety comes through in feeling muddled, feelings of not making sense, and losing the thread.
These feelings are so unpleasant that there is a temptation to avoid presentations altogether.
A major cause is an overwhelming sense of others watching and judging, coupled with anxiety that ‘they think I'm stupid’. It is easy for these feelings to spiral into negative thoughts such as ‘I'm a total failure’. At this point, our sense of self esteem gets confused with our academic performance. Common issues are:
The key to success is to think positively; take control of your stress and anxiety by learning effective techniques to combat it.
Relaxing bodily tension in order to reduce the physical sensations of stress is a good place to start. If your body is free of tension your mind tends to be relaxed. This helps you concentrate and perform better, take decisions and solve problems. When you are relaxed, you can view each task as a positive challenge, and use stress as a stimulus to help you to carry it out. You could try some relaxation exercises or the breathing exercise below.
Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. As you breathe in through your nose allow your stomach to swell. This means that you are using the diaphragm to breathe in and allowing air right down into your lungs. Try to keep the movement in your upper chest to a minimum and keep the movement gentle. Slowly and evenly breathe out through your nose. Repeat and get a rhythm going. You are aiming to take 8-12 breaths a minute: breathing in and breathing out again counts as one breath. Practise until it becomes a habit and switch to regular breathing when you next become anxious.
Find a new way to look at the problem. There is always more than one way of seeing things, which means that we may be able to act more effectively by looking at the problem differently. The key is to recognize our thoughts and the way that they have affected our mood and confidence. Think about:
Finding a new view point will give you more options and keep your thoughts in perspective. For example:
Pigeon hole other anxieties
This involves consciously organizing your mind to temporarily put on one side all the other issues that concern you. Tell yourself that you will address these issues in due course, but for now you want to focus on the task ahead and give yourself time to prepare.
Try the following suggestions:
Using drugs of any sort (alcohol, stimulants, even too much caffeine) to ‘get through’ can adversely affect performance leaving you even less able to perform well. Facing your fear now will provide you with a skill for life.
Brookes students can see a doctor at the Medical Centre on the Headington Campus.
If you are not registered with the Medical Centre, you should make an appointment with your own doctor.
Careers may be able to give advice on how to do good presentations.
Your personal Academic Adviser, Module Leaders or Student Support Co-ordinator may be able to help with concerns about presentations.