I remember it vividly: Sitting in a small class of 10 people and taking the seminar “international institutions and world order” as part of my master’s degree in political science. I had read all the literature for the class and our professor was asking a question. Hearing the questions, I felt confident, that I would have an answer of value. Still, it was an internal struggle to bring myself to raise my hand and finally, speak in front of the class.

When I spoke I was riddled with insecurity and the fear of embarrassing myself. Often, I turned bright red when talking, for no apparent reason at all. What I was saying was not wrong, no one was laughing. More than once, I cursed my light skin and my tendencies of turning red, when I feel uncomfortable. (btw. the more you try not to turn red, the more you actually turn red. What a great fun fact ;))

Speaking in front of a group = Anxiety

Even though I think of myself as fairly confident, it was very apparent that I was having a a considerable problem with speaking up and putting myself in the centre of attention in situations that are out of my comfort zone.

I talked to my female fellow students about the issue and sure enough, I was not alone. A lot of my friends felt similar. We realised that one of the main ‘problems’ was that speaking up and ‘claiming space and a voice’ gave us anxiety. In contrast to our male fellow students, it was difficult to believe that what we had to say was so valuable, everyone should listen to it.

While the guys seemed to have no problem voicing their thoughts and opinions – sometimes speaking for minutes uninterrupted – my female fellow students and I had to force ourselves to speak. It was apparent, that we were fighting self-doubt, feeling inferior. For me, anxiety and speaking up in class, went hand in hand.

Tackling the fear of speaking up and claiming space

Bodylanguage is powerful!

Tall stand, shoulders back, balanced stance, head held high, relaxed breathing. It really makes all the difference. Even if you don’t feel confident, adapting a powerful pose will make you feel better.

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard social psychologist, researched how our physiology affects our confidence. Her findings confirmed that holding high power poses (relaxed, standing tall, taking up space) increases testosterone levels while decreasing cortisol, consequently, making people feel more confident and less stressed.

Deliberately taking a powerful position can help you feel more at ease and relaxed before you speak up. Next time you feel nervous to talk, adapt a confident and relaxed body language.

It has a grounding effect and it works wonders for me. Every time I catch myself getting nervous before speaking, I talke 5 seconds to become mindful of my body-language and adjust it. Take advanatge of this simple yet effective hack and deliberatley adjust your physiology to change your confidence.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

By now we all know that breathing, especially deliberate breathing, makes a huge difference in our overall well-being.

Being mindful of your breath, particularly when feeling nervous or anxious, is a must-do.

Emotions affect the body. When we are fearful we tense up, our breathing gets fast and shallow. When we are relaxed and at ease, out breathing automatically becomes slower.

Let’s turn the tables here. We can actually trick our bodies into feeling different emotions by changing our physiology and breathing. So, take deep, calm and controlled breathes to make yourself feel relaxed and self-assured before speaking up.

Visualise it. The success – not the worst case scenario. Obviously.

Visualisation is actually an old and proven technique to help achieve performance goals. Top athletes, artists and speakers visualise their performances over and over again before they go on stage.

There are many different ways to practice visualisation. One simple technique is to close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving your goal as detailed ans specific as possible.

When I was writing my Master thesis I had a difficult time with my supervising professor and I would get really anxious before our appointments. So, I began visualising my perfect scenario before every meeting. I imagined how I would walk into his office, confident and with my shoulders back. How I would greet him. How I would sit down at the desk with him and how I would ask every question that I wanted to ask. I visualised how I would get the answers I wanted. I imagined myself leaving the appointment, feeling good and motivated to continue working on my thesis.

This visualisation technique really helped me to feel calm and confident at the meetings.

When you are visualising you are activating the parts of your brain as if you are actually performing what you want to do. Not only is it great mental practice, but it also gives you the feeling that you are already achieving what you set out to do and therefore sets you up for success.

Look deep into my eyes, baby!

We know it. We’ve seen it. We’ve experienced it. And still, it’s incredibly difficult to do in uncomfortable situations. Holding eye contact. It can change a conversation, it can alter your impression on someone drastically. The power of strong eye contact is real.

It helps build trust and it shows that you are present in the moment. Eye contact makes the other person feel important.

On average, adults make eye contact between 30%-60% of the time in a conversation. But studies show that it is better to make eye contact 60%-70% of the conversation to establish an emotional connection.

Having strong eye contact can you really set you apart from others. From my personal experience, people who have a lot of eye contact always leave a lasting impression on me – primarily a positive one.

Practice eye contact. You can gradually build it up. Lock eyes with the cashier at the supermarket when you pay for your groceries. Be present and take the time to thank really look at the delivery man, when you receive a parcel.

Practice eye contact with strangers and friends. Soon, it’ll be much easier to have regular and strong eye contact and it won’t be as scary to also utilize it when you are speaking in front of a group or talking in a situation out of your comfort zone.

To conclude: Talking to Anyone = ?

Ultimately, the goal is to feel comfortable enough in situations out of your comfort zone to be the authentic you and to be able to be fully present.

Naturally it is normal and totally ok to feel a little nervous every now and then when you begin to speak. It just shouldn’t have a crippling effect to your abilities to express yourself fully.

With the techniques introduced above you can start practising to feel more comfortable and self-confident to take the floor, even in scenarios out of your comfort zone!