Is Your Brain Working Against You?
Brain Science and the Art of Presenting

By Guest Blogger Susan Taylor of Imagine Productions

A note from Jackie: Many solos are terrified of presenting themselves to the world; for them, there is nothing scarier than standing up in front of a full auditorium and talking about what makes their business special. Forget about the auditorium! Some of my clients can barely stand to talk to one person at a cocktail party and explain their business venture. But you know what? Presenting yourself is a vital skill if you’re a solopreneur. Remember Principle #2 from Better, Smarter, Richer? You MUST be able to clearly and confidently articulate your unique value proposition, whether you’re talking to two people, 100 people…or even just yourself in the mirror (which is sometimes scariest of all). This guest piece from presentation expert Susan Taylor gives some fabulous tips for mastering the fear of presenting.

Who’s in charge around here? Can you believe that in certain circumstances your brain takes charge of you and can even go so far as to work against your best interest? That little bundle of grey matter at the end of your spine has a mind of its own – or rather, is a mind of its own. There are three primary parts to your brain, each with assigned specific tasks. Each part developed separately as we evolved. The oldest part of your brain – known as the reptile brain – is, or most certainly was, a good pal. In fact we share this part of brain with all vertebrates and it served us all well. Its primary function is to interpret the world around us and keep us safe from danger so that we can live to reproduce our species.

Brain Science and Fear

Photo Credit: eatyou_S@ilor

“What dangers?” you may ask. Lions? Yes. That something in the bushes? Yes. That tree that looks a little different than it did last time you passed by? Yes. Your presentation in a crowded auditorium? Your primitive brain will leap to your assistance here as well, but this time the assistance is not helpful.

There are occasions when it is good to have this part of your brain helping you. Let’s say you are walking alone at night and you hear a strange and ominous noise. Here comes the primitive brain to your rescue. Run, run, run! Now let’s imagine it is necessary for you to stand up in front a group and speak. The same sensation of fear is evoked, as is the instinct to run away. But here this isn’t going to help. In fact, neither instinctive reaction – fight or flight – is going to gain you the trust or admiration of your audience or help you to be a better speaker.

But you don’t need to be victimized by that old reptile brain. You can take control. Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard, gave one of the most popular TED talks in which she answers questions about why we react fearfully and how to combat the instinctive fearful reaction. There are two hormones secreted by our primitive brain: one is testosterone (the alpha male, take-charge hormone), and the other is cortisol (the flight or fight hormone). What Amy Cuddy has figured out is that if we work properly with our body, we can influence our brain to produce testosterone and minimize its production of cortisol.

She recommends, immediately prior to any event that might frighten you such as a job interview or a speech, assume what she calls a power pose or the wonder woman pose. By simply standing with your arms over head in a V or with your hands on your hips for three minutes, your brain will respond with the production of the charisma hormone, testosterone, and conversely slow the production of cortisol. Not only will this help you with a boost in confidence, but it will help your audience to see you as a winner and champion.

The opposite is also true. If you want to get yourself into a terrible, self-defeating state, slump inward – shoulders and head down, arms crossed over your chest. Your brain will produce greater amounts of cortisol and minimize the production of testosterone. If you are already nervous and unsure, this will put you into crisis mode.

It is an artificial way to improve your chances. It won’t convert a poor presentation into a great presentation. And it isn’t a replacement for practice. But it sure is a nice way to get rid of those sweaty palms and shaky knees!

We understand that presenting is terrifying for many people – scarier than death the statistics say. We want you to checkout our short, free webinar series that is guaranteed to help you over come your presentation jitters. Did I say it was free? It is, but it has proven priceless to many who have viewed it. Click here to sign up for our Presenters’ Club Newsletter and get your free webinar and Presenter’s Checklist.

Susan Taylor on brain scienceSusan Taylor is one of the masterminds behind Imagine Productions, along with Lucia DeLisa. Imagine Productions helps companies reach new markets and communicate more effectively with employees and customers using digital communication tools such as presentations, e-learning, and web video. They specialize in high stakes presentations, multimedia e-learning courses, corporate online video production, and storytelling in presentation, elearning and video. Learn more here.