Hacking your brain: unravelling the enigma of public speaking confidence

…the anxiety that comes with public speaking – a fear that most of us, even those at the top, struggle with
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By Jasmine Pang
Crisis Response Manager, Navigate Response

Picture your audience in their underwear.

Now, that’s a piece of advice many have heard on how to cope with the anxiety that comes with public speaking – a fear that most of us, even those at the top, struggle with. I understand the idea behind it; when the audience is vulnerable or “exposed”, we as speakers in comparison would be in a position of power, psychologically speaking at least. This idea of feeling in control and thus, more at ease and less anxious, does have its merits, but the horrifying image of the audience in their underwear? No, thank you.

As someone who is not a natural at public speaking but has to speak to a crowd on a regular basis, I’ve read so many books and articles on how to overcome the fear of public speaking. Of the many strategies out there, I find the most helpful ones are usually scientific in nature. And here, I share my favourites – those that cunningly deceive the very brain itself, with you.

The Confidence Mirage of Artful Illusions

Dr. Albert Bandura, Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University, believed that at the heart of confidence lies the magic of positive self-affirmations. These self-affirmations can shape our self-perception, bolstering our belief in our abilities. Speak and repeat incantations of self-assurance: “I am a compelling speaker” and “I captivate my audience” until they are etched in your mind and your brain conjures the mirage.

This technique utilises both positive self-affirmation and visualisation to help rewire our thought patterns and self-perception. When we repeatedly tell ourselves positive messages, our brain starts to internalise them as truths, leading to a more confident self-image. Visualisation allows us to mentally rehearse success, making it easier to embody that confidence when we step onto the stage.

The Architect of Association

Within the labyrinthian corridors of the hippocampus lies the foundation of memory and association. Dr. Eleanor Maguire, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College London, reveals her blueprint for success – anchoring emotions to action.

Our brain is wired to form associations between experiences and emotions. By creating emotional anchors and linking positive emotions to the act of public speaking, we develop a neural support system for confidence. These associations help counteract the negative emotions often associated with public speaking, allowing us to approach it with a more positive mindset.

So weave vivid mental tapestries of triumphant standing ovations and thunderous applause. Pair these emotional memories with the thrill of public speaking, until the two become inseparable companions in your journey to mastery.

The Wizard’s Clothes: Dressing with Conviction

The adage “dress for success” is not without merit. Dr. Karen Pine, Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, explains that dressing the part and paying attention to our appearance can have a profound impact on our psychological state. When we dress confidently, our brain picks up on these signals and mirrors the attitude, influencing our behaviour and self-perception. Accessories and colours sway our emotions, too, so put on a hefty watch and don robes of authority, like regal blues, commanding blacks or dominant reds, and see yourself imbued with confidence and the gravitas of a seasoned speaker.

Conquering public speaking is a journey. But it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. We can arm ourselves with the wisdom of those before us, and leverage our brain’s natural mechanisms and cognitive processes to boost confidence and improve public speaking abilities.

So as the curtain rises on your next performance, embrace the spotlight with the intrepid spirit of a seasoned orator. For within you, the enigma of public speaking confidence awaits its unravelling.




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