HOW TO DEAL WITH SPEAKING ANXIETY
Today, I want to share a very personal story with you. One day of some time ago, I did something I could not believe myself I had just done. I was applying for many internship positions at that time since I really needed to get some experience as a third-year student in college. After many months of incessant applying, some interviews, and lots of uncertainty, I finally get an email from a company working in the fashion industry, regarding my application to the digital marketing position, and asking me for a phone interview the following day. Very excited and happy for the news I just received, I start researching the company and looking for some catchy ways to introduce myself and to answer their possible questions, confident that, having had previous experiences with interviews, which were all overall positive, I would not have any problem going through the interview. However, the next day, when I finally get the call I had been waiting for the whole day, as soon as the interviewer asks me the first question, I completely freak out and instinctively press the “hang up” button. “Did I really just do that?” Was the first thought that popped up in my mind, followed by feelings of embarrassment, and guiltiness. The question the interviewer had asked me was: “what is your interpretation of the work we do as a company?”. It might have been an unusual question, but I had done some research and I would have come up with something. The truth is I hang up because I was afraid that I would have not been able to formulate thoughts and elaborate them in a way that made some sense, especially because I was talking in my second language. I was anxious and scared to fail. Today, I learned my lesson, and I am here to make sure you do not make my same mistakes. Therefore, here you will find some of my best tips to overcome speaking anxiety and to speak with clarity, confidence, and energy, even in your second language!
- Practice, Practice, Practice!
It does not matter whether you need to have a presentation, a job interview or you just need to have a small talk. One of the best ways to overcome speaking anxiety (that can possibly escalate in totally panicking) is to walk into the conversation as a confident speaker. Now, it is very hard for us to be confident all the time and all day, but one great way to boost your confidence is to be prepared. Repeating something over and over again makes us stronger. I am not referring to practice just in the sense of rehearsing your speech, which is also very helpful to be ready for interviews and presentations, but I am talking about the practice of the language itself: when you are not used to speaking a language, especially if you are studying one and you do not daily or frequently interact with people that speak it with you, it is totally normal you will feel very nervous before speaking: you are unsure because you do not know how you sound, if you will make mistakes, or whether you will pronounce all the words correctly or not. You might be embarrassed because you do not like the way the language comes out of your mouth, or you are scared of how people may react to you speaking it. For all these reasons, it is crucial you spend at least some time of your day speaking aloud every day, to get used to the language. If you have not someone to talk to, the best thing is to talk in front of a mirror or to record yourself. These steps will greatly help you be more confident while you speak.
- Step Out of your Comfort Zone.
This is a small trick I have learned in college, that helps you deal with situations you are not used to and gives you some adrenaline before your interview/ talk/ presentation: try to do something that you usually would not do, that makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable. For example, when you go to class or when you sit in a bar, talk to a stranger and ask him how his day was, or talk to him about the weather. This will trick your brain into thinking: “if I did this, I can go to the next step”, and it will give you the energy to step into what you need to do with more confidence.
- Think about How to Present Yourself to the Audience
Whenever we speak, we present, we have any type of interaction with someone, we give an impression to the people that are listening to us. This happens all the time, and, for us to be successful and to reduce the level of speaking anxiety, it is important we think about how we want to come across when we speak: do we want to be funny, friendly, formal? Whatever the occasion may be, it is important you stick to who you really are, and you highlight the good aspects of your personality. Tailoring your speech to your personality is fundamental to show the other person your true self, leaving a lasting impression. When you do something, do it with your own style! In addition, imagining yourself being honest, genuine, and unique in that particular situation you want to be prepared for will help you have a positive mindset.
- Realize We are All on the Same Boat
Countless times I was afraid of talking and taking the initiative because I felt everyone around me seemed so relaxed and was so naturally good at speaking. Truth was, most of the time, they were all as nervous and as good as me. Yes, there are some people who tend to be less nervous and more confident speakers. However, the majority of them are just like you: they will do their best and try not to show their nervousness. Therefore, it is very important for you and your self-esteem to realize that from the outside, everything looks so different: when you speak in public, for example, many people will compare to you and think they will not be as good as you, while you, from the inside, might judge yourself very harshly because you thought everyone saw how anxious you were and how many pauses you made. Being nervous before something you care about is perfectly normal, and most of the time people will not even notice.
- Have Someone You Care about Give you Feedback
Sometimes all we need is someone who is here for us, supporting our efforts and our work. Having a family member, a dear friend or a partner listening to us can be essential to giving us the feeling that everything is going to be okay. People who know you well and want you to succeed will do their best to give you some good feedback when needed while making sure you know your worth. This will boost your confidence and will give you a sense of security that you need to nail your big moment!
Finally, there is one last tip I would like to give you: if anything happens, do not beat yourself up too much, rather take it as an occasion to learn from your mistakes. Sometimes, no matter how much we think we are confident and prepared: it could happen that things will not go the way we had pictured them to go, and this might make us feel like we came back to the same point we were at before. I want you to know that this is human and happens to the best of us. Growth is not a steady line going upwards, but it is a series of up and downs, with a positive tendency. When I hang up to the interviewer some time ago, I realized I had two options: I could either harshly judge myself and give up on everything I had learned so far, or I could think about what I had just done as a valuable lesson and something very important to learn from. No need to say today, when I look at what happened, I see something that contributed to my personal growth and helped me work on myself. My point is, anxiety might not be the most pleasant feeling in the world, but it is less of an enemy than we think it is.