Work habits-best practices


Tips and techniques for converting nervous anxiety into positive energy

Have you ever dreamt of channeling your nervous anxiety into a positive energy? You’re not alone. This is the most frequent question I am asked by A/E/C professionals. Many professionals have mastered techniques to not just help them overcome anxiety, but to actually capitalize on its benefits.

Stress is the activation of a hormonal release (adrenaline). In nature, stress is a useful physiological reaction to environmental challenges. Stress actually enhances survival rates. Predators and prey experience this hormonal push. For both, it sets the body up for necessary functions and suppresses what is not needed (digestion down / heart rate up). In humans, stress can also be positive, resulting in sharper focus, concentration, and energy. Who doesn’t want this?

At times during business interactions, we become challenged, stunted, or even paralyzed by anxiety. It happens when we are required to deliver a sales pitch or a formal presentation, or when we are expected to network among a crowded room of strangers. For still others, anxiety envelops us when we are involved in meetings with clients, or even with teammates. Consider this: nervous energy is better than no energy at all!

Below is a list of tips and techniques for turning your nervous anxiety into positive energy.

•    Visualize success. Athletes do this all of the time. Visualize your scenario from two perspectives: you as you, and you watching you. If it’s a presentation, envision the room environment, your charming persona, the engaging people, etc. Whether it’s a presentation or a networking function, take your visualization to the highest possible level of detail. Be relentless in your positivity.

•    Breathing exercises. Before you dismiss this tip as something that only works for yogis and singers, give it a chance. There are the two breathing techniques that I use most frequently: 1. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) – Systematically move through various muscle groups, tightening and releasing one at a time; 2. Diaphragmatic breathing – Expand the belly out when inhaling, and draw the belly in towards the spine when exhaling. Ensure that the air enters deep into the belly, not into the shallow chest area. Lengthen the exhale and inhale for as many counts as possible.

•    Practice. Practice the presentation from beginning to end at least three times. Practice the introduction and concluding remarks at least three additional times. This way, you’re guaranteed to get off to a great start, and to conclude with impact. Practice in small segments. Don’t wait until the visual presentation is perfect before starting. And accept that it will come out differently each time. There’s no need for the actual presentation to be word-for-word!

•    Funnel energy into gestures and expressions. Ever see someone jiggle his leg when nervous? How about clench their jaw or hands? Extra energy gives you the chance to positively invigorate your gestures, expressions, and vocal variety (pace/pause and modulation). It allows you to be dramatic and engaging. Everyone can learn best practices for body language if they really try.

•    Smile. Really smile. If needed to produce a sincere smile, use a positive trigger. My triggers: the sound of a child’s giggle; the look on your dog’s face when you get home; your next vacation. Smiling works wonders to make you feel good, and you’re going to get them back from others. It’s a wonderful cycle. A returned smile leads to warmth, warmth leads to connection, and connection leads to….converted tension!

•    Prepare for spontaneity. Experienced speakers and networkers know that in order to appear off-the-cuff and relaxed, they need to be clear on their message and goals. In other words, they prepare to appear spontaneous! Whether you are participating in a meeting, or delivering a presentation, make sure you have prepared readable notes (using key phrases for easy reference).

•    Replace your negative inner critic. “What if I bore people? What if I’m asked a question that I can’t answer? What if I lose my train of thought? What if I embarrass myself?” Avoid this downward spiral of negativity, and replace it with positive self-talk. “I am brilliant. I will shine. I am a magnet of positive energy.” Sometimes you have to be your own coach, and give yourself your own positive reinforcement.

•    Look for the friendliest face. Whether in a meeting, networking function, or formal presentation, scan the environment for the friendliest face, and keep going back to it for a boost. If possible, greet that person in advance. Make sure you’ve got your own friendly face on! The best test: If you could see yourself and your expression right in that moment, would you want to meet you?

Many professionals in the A/E/C industry become ‘low energy’ when in public scenarios. Believe it or not, experienced communicators actually embrace a bit of nervous energy, because they fully trust that the energy will keep them from being flat. You can do the same! Re-shape your thinking, and give some of these tips a try.

NOTE: This is an abbreviated version of the piece. Feel free to download the full article.

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