Dealing with Presentation Anxiety

Recently I saw a patient who was very anxious about giving presentations. Not an uncommon situation you might think, yet something that for most people happens rarely because we rarely have to give presentations in everyday life. Not so for this gentleman. A large part of his job is to travel the world promoting a very special Scottish export – Whisky!

As a Whisky historian he is demand as a raconteur of the making of the “water of life” down the ages. And for the most part, he does just fine. Mainly because if his audience is made up mostly of strangers then everything seems to go just nicely. However, give him an audience of people he knows and especially if they are “superior” to him in some way (bosses, management, celebrities etc) then he visibly sweats a lot and stammers his way through to the bitter end. And more recently, he has been partaking of the “water of life” to “help” him get through such occasions. Hearing that I did “weird things” to help people get through problem issues he came to see me.

Wanting to gain more information about how his problem occurred I stopped him from telling me “all about it” (his reasoning and interpretations of why this had come about) and decided to do a contrastive analysis. A contrastive analysis is when you compare the submodality structure of an experience that goes well with one which hasn’t. It can give very useful information about how a person structures their experience and just what kinds of shifts might be helpful in sorting things out.

I asked him to think about a presentation experience that had gone well. He had been in the Ukraine speaking to a group of people that he didn’t know at all. When he remembered it fully the key structure was:

• Seeing from his own eyes with the scenario in colour…
• Seeing all of the audience in its entirety – panoramic…
• Able to look at one member of the audience whilst still seeing them all…
• Aware of what was behind him (table and bottle of water)…
• Feeling comfortable and “in the flow”…

Then I asked him to think about a presentation involving his superiors which didn’t go so well. Immediately things were very different, the keys being:

• Situated in the audience watching himself presenting (in colour)…
• Running commentary of very critical appraisal of performance….
• Seeing the rest of the audience watching him intently…

In essence then, he was 2nd positioning the audience rather than being in his 1st person self. I asked him to step into himself and experience things from there. This time he noted the following:

• Unable to see the audience clearly
• Tunnel vision with flashes of the people there
• A “blank” surround
• Unaware of what was behind him

From this perspective he felt things were going horribly wrong and didn’t think he was connecting with his audience.

From there I asked him to stand directly to the side (3rd position) and look at both himself and the audience. He felt instant relief and immediately commented that he saw so much more and had new information that he didn’t have in 1st position. He recognised with surprise that he was doing much better than he originally thought and that the audience were actually quite attentive rather than bored. (“I’m nowhere near as bad as I thought I was”)

I asked him to also remove his critical 2nd position self from the audience and put “him” on the sidelines. Then he stepped back into his 1st position self and re-experienced the situation once more from his own eyes. This time he was visibly relaxed, saw the audience as a whole, was aware of his peripheral vision, aware of what was behind him and felt comfortable and in the flow.

It was clear then that we needed to deal with his critical inner voice in 2nd position with audience. Given that the positive intention of this part of him was to help him do better we negotiated a settlement. This kind of settlement usually involves preserving the function of the part and sequencing when and how feedback is given. In future this voice would help him prepare for an upcoming event, “take notes” from the sidelines during it whilst remaining silent, and debrief him afterwards. Instead of telling him what had gone wrong it would focus what he did well and could actually do differently next time.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and he will report back after an in-house presentation to his company in January. In the meantime, you can find out more about how to use interventions like this in Changing with NLP.

Until next time


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