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Anxious? Perhaps you’re just excited!



By Daniel Kingsley

Champagne Popping


There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.

Richard Branson (paraphrasing Mark Twain)


One of the main things people say to me when they come for help with public speaking is that they want to “get rid of their nerves”.

They look very disappointed when I tell them it simply isn’t possible.

Unless you’re a psychopath you’re going to get nervous before you speak in public, and you’ll probably be nervous at the start of your talk – sometimes all the way through!

The good news is we don’t need to get rid of the nerves.  Confident speakers have them too – they have simply learned not to fear them. 

My favourite analogy here is nerves are like waves on the ocean – you can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf.

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf”.

I’ve written about how to do this in detail here.

Here’s another secret – anxiety is very close to excitement, so close that we can easily convert one to the other by “reframing” it.


How to reframe your anxiety as excitement

In a really interesting piece of research, Harvard Professor Alison Wood Brooks set up an experiment.  She asked people to give a public speech on the subject of why they are a good “work partner” or colleague, and told them it would be videotaped and evaluated by “a committee of peers”.  Not surprisingly, this was a test designed to provoke some anxiety!

Before giving the talk half the group were given the statement to say to themselves “I am calm”.  The other half of the group were given the statement “I am excited”.  That was the only difference between the two groups.

They gave their talks for 2-3 minutes on video, and the recordings were then evaluated by an independent panel.

When independent evaluators looked at the tapes of the speeches, the people who performed worst were the people who told themselves “I am calm”.   Their talks were found (relatively speaking) to lack confidence, persuasiveness and conviction.

The best performing group were those who told themselves “I am excited”.

It wasn’t a night and day difference, but it was a statistically significant difference.


It works with singing in tune too!

In a parallel experiment as part of the same research, a different group of people were given the task of singing the first verse of a Karaoke song (Don’t Stop Belivin by Journey) in front of each other, as accurately as possible, with prize money that escalated depending on how well they sang the song, in terms of volume, pitch, and note duration.

Before singing the song the singers were given a statement to make including a single emotion:  “I am [anxious]/ [excited]/[calm]/[angry][sad]”.  The particular adjective was randomly assigned to the participants in equal numbers, with a control group not being required to say anything at all.

Participants were reported to feel equally anxious about the task at hand (on average), but there was a marked difference in terms of how excited they felt.  The study showed that participants who stated “I am excited” reported feeling significantly more excited before they sang.

The performance on singing was measured by a Karaoke program (Karaoke Revolution:  Glee, if you’re interested) on the Nintendo Wii, so there was an objective measure of the singers’ performance.

Those who stated “I am anxious” scored a singing accuracy of 53%

Those who made no statement scored 69%

Those who stated “I am excited” scored an average of 80.5%

Graph Of Results

The lowest performance score for all the emotions was for “I am anxious”.  The highest was for “I am excited”.

What’s interesting about this study was that everyone started off (on average) equally anxious, but those who said “I am excited” felt more excited, and performed better.

This suggests that simply using a statement like this can “convert” some of the anxiety into excitement and significantly improve performance.


So, what does this mean for your public speaking?

The simple take-away here is that (probably) one of the worst things you can say to yourself or anyone else before speaking in public is “I’m really anxious about this”!

A significant improvement would be to say:  “I’m feeling excited about this”.

Following the insights I shared in my previous article, some people might get on better with saying something like “A part of me feels anxious, and I’m really excited about this”.

I love these insights because they are simple, easy to understand and they work.  Powerful and effective solutions don’t always need to be complicated.

As always, give it a go and let me know how you get on!  (Either by email or in the comments below).  I love to hear from you.


If you’d like to explore this and many other transformative principles in person, do check our our Foundation Public Speaking Courses in London, or contact us to discuss arranging a 1-2-1 coaching session.


Daniel Kingsley
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