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The Simple Way to Kill Presentation Anxiety

The Simple Way to Kill Presentation Anxiety

Communication Expert Mark Bowden has helped top executives and political leaders around the globe gain an advantage, beyond words, when they speak. With an extensive background in utilizing body language to help individuals succeed, Bowden knows that sometimes we can consciously change our bodies to impact how our brains react to a situation. In this article, he details how you can kill presentation anxiety in a simple, effective way:

When conversations, communications, presentations are really important, we tend to get anxious. All of us. Even communicators who’ve been doing it for a long time.”

So says Mark Bowden, president of Toronto-based communication training company TRUTHPLANE and the guest of this week’s BusinessCast.

Bowden—who wrote the bestseller, Winning Body Language—believes that a bit of nerves are totally normal, whether you’re speaking to an audience of thousands of stakeholders or one crucial investor. He also believes these nerves are completely surmountable. In fact, that belief is what he bases his work on. “I help people communicate in a way that helps them be seen, stand out, win trust, be respected, be seen as confident immediately and to get more out of that communication than they put in,” he explains.

The problem with anxiety about public speaking is that it tends to manifest at times that are really important, says Bowden. And that results in the presenter appearing nervous, indecisive and unconfident—not exactly a great way to win over a room. A calm and assertive presence is much more effective, he adds. And that can be achieved with some simple changes to your body language.

“This is a new discovery in psychology,” Bowden explains. “When you adopt the body language of someone who is calm and assertive, you actually start to feel like that. It’s called ‘embodied cognition.’ In other words, the brain follows the body.”

So, instead of trying to rationalize away your nerves with your brain (the often futile “Oh, I shouldn’t feel nervous; aren’t I silly?” approach), you project confidence through your body. That way, Bowden says, you come across as confident—and feel confident as well.

One way to do this is to put your hands in what Bowden calls the “truth plane”—a position he says is so effective, he named his company after it. Imagine there’s a table in front of you that comes up to your naval. Place your hands as if they’re sitting on that plane, palms upright, as if you’re holding a tray carrying a few glasses of water. This is the standard truth plane gesture, says Bowden: “If you practise doing that, you feel more stable, confident and balanced. And you look more stable, confident and balanced to those you’re speaking to.”

Why does it work? When your hands are up high, around the chest area—Bowden calls this the “passion plane”—you come across as being too excited and agitated. And if your hands are by your sides—the standard stance of most presenters—you’ll come across as being more tired and sleepy. The reasons have to do with breathing patterns, blood pressure, heart rate and a whole host of chemical reactions within your body, explains Bowden. According to his research, the truth plane is quite simply the ideal way to communicate is more vibrant, assertive and engaging way.

By Robert Gold & Andrew Brown /