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As a graduate student you must accept that there is no getting away from oral presentations and the anxiety associated with it.
I have given multiple oral presentations and perhaps even started getting better at it. Nonetheless, the anxiety before and during the presentation is something that I haven’t been able to eliminate. Making sure I give the presentation and don’t collapse while at it, is my priority.
Thus, I have come up with 3 things that help me reduce the anxiety associated with an oral presentation.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
I already mentioned in my previous blog that relaxation is part of the strategies I use during my blue days. What I did not mention is that I use this every day for different situations, not just during my blue days. One of those strategies is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
PMR is a technique based on tensing and releasing different muscles. *According to the authors of “The Mindful Way through Anxiety”, PMR’s goal is to notice subtle cues of tension in different parts of your body and learn to release that tension.
I see this as a good investment of my time. If I don’t take the time to release my tension and reduce my anxiety, I am not going to be able to give a good oral presentation. Instead, I will end up with more anxiety and negative thoughts, which will then result in an unhealthy cycle of constant worry and depression.
*I would also recommend getting the book. It is a great resource for fighting anxiety.
Have you heard the phrase “Fake it until you Make it”? Well, a mantra is sort of like that.
A mantra is a word or a phrase that you repeat several times, every time you are depressed, anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed, etc. Mantras work by helping your mind and body relax, and by blocking negative thoughts and reinforcing your brain to think positively.
The first time I used my mantras it didn’t feel like they worked. After repeating them several times over the course of a week, I started noticing that there was indeed a change in thoughts and emotions. I went from been overwhelmed and anxious, to a more stable neutral status.
My main two mantras are “I can do it” and “God is with me”, and every time I give an oral presentation I repeat them until I believe them.
I can do it. God is with me.
Even if you don’t have an oral presentation, using mantras in your daily routine is a good practice. Need help finding your mantra click here.
I can’t emphasize this enough! Practicing an oral presentation over and over, reduces anxiety by increasing confidence. Most of the anxiety during an oral presentation comes from fear of making a mistake, or not knowing how to answer a question. The best way to minimize these fears is to practice.
When I was in college I took a public speaking class. The reason I took that class was because by then, I already knew that if I wanted to become a scientist I would have to give oral presentations (even if I didn’t wanted to). The class was excellent, and it helped me be better prepared for all types of presentations.
Luckily you don’t have to take the class because I will summarize it for you:
Write everything and anything
“Good Morning! My name is Jennifer Rodriguez-Nieves and today I will be talking about my project titled: PhDmind. I am going to start by explaining …”
“Use pointer to drag audience’s attention to the left side of the graph.”
“This is graph A. On the Y-axis we are showing… the blue dots are… which means that …”
Be as specific as possible, exactly how you plan to say it and what you want to be doing while you say it. This will increase your confidence and will reduce your anxiety.
For PowerPoint I use the note box below the slides, and index cards or hand-written notes. Give it a try 😊
Practice with people you trust
Now, this is tricky and probably one of the hardest things to do. You want to be able to practice with someone that is not going to trigger your anxiety, but at the same time someone critical enough to give you honest and helpful advice.
This feedback is very relevant because we tend to put ourselves down even when we are doing a good job. Receiving feedback or improvement advice from someone we trust makes all the difference.
Don’t let anxiety control you.