I’m Watching You!

Are you usually a fairly confident person – the life and soul of the party? Until, that is you have to make a presentation in front of an audience or speak in front of a microphone or video camera.

A recent survey showed that people are terrified of speaking in public – in fact the fear came above the fear of spiders, divorce and even death!

When questioned, participants said they feared making a fool of themselves, dropping their papers, looking incongruent, forgetting what they intended to say, and now neuroscientists at the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and Brighton and Sussex Medical School have identified the brain network system that causes us to stumble and stall just when we least want to.

The study reveals why your brain makes you slip up when anxious, it seems that the anxiety of being watched can have a disastrous effect on your performance.

They were able to pinpoint the brain area that causes the performance mishaps during an experiment using functional magnetic resonance neuroimaging (fMRI) and they found that people exert more force when they know that people are watching, so for example pianists unconsciously press keys harder when they play in front of an audience.

Scan results showed that an area of the brain that helps us to control our fine sensorimotor functions – the inferior parietal cortex (IPC) – became deactivated when people felt they were being observed interestingly how we perceive the audience will receive us also plays a part, if we believe that those watching want us to do well, we will perform well. But if we pick up negative cues, our IPC is deactivated and our performance falls apart.

So if you want to share your message in front of a wider audience and know that you will be called upon to give a presentation or a talk how can you best prepare and ensure that you will ‘shine’?

How you will perform is intrinsically linked with how confident you are – about yourself, the topic you are speaking about, and whether it will be well received, i.e. are those watching your ideal clients or community? If it’s a job interview is this actually your ideal job? Ask yourself how likely it is that those watching are likely to be open and supportive of you.

You don’t have to naturally be a super confident person, you can ‘fake it till you make it’ but the key to a successful performance is feeling entirely authentic about the message you are conveying and knowing that you are fully prepared.

Having a positive attitude is also important so a top tip is to visualise yourself coming away from the experience exhilarated and knowing you ‘rocked it!’

The authors of the study suggested that for example a musician before a public performance ‘could perform in front of his/her family and close friends and receive a lot of applause. Such experience would help to induce a desirable activation pattern in your brain and boost self-confidence.’

You too can rehearse before you do anything in public and I would highly recommend it – always read your script or your notes out loud, video yourself and watch it back, do all or part of your presentation in front of someone you know is on your side and ask for honest feedback.

The reality is that we do all feel some nerves when we are being scrutinised but make sure the butterflies in your tummy are flying in perfect formation! If you are totally authentic your passion and enthusiasm will come across and the audience will be with you all the way, so what if you do spill your water or drop your papers, we are all human – actually when the unexpected happens it can be the ice breaker that means people identify with you even more

So be willing to stand in the spotlight and shine – I’m watching!