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3 Tips to Make You Feel Confident When Giving a Presentation

3 Tips to Make You Feel Confident When Giving a Presentation

I still remember those terrible days when my history teacher would have the class read aloud from the text book, each student one paragraph.

I was a pretty awful at reading out loud, so I counted the kids ahead of me. I determined I’d be reading paragraph 13, and started practicing.

When it was my turn, I blasted through my paragraph so quickly that I mispronounced words left and right and sounded like the disclaimers at the end of a car commercial. Worst of all, I was actually supposed to read paragraph 12. (Turns out I was lousy at reading and math.)

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But it turned into a valuable lesson. When you’re reading a text in public—whether it’s jotted notes or a full-blown speech—it’s easy to mispronounce words and fumble phrases. You feel stupid and your audience is confused. Here are some tips to help you prepare.

1. Avoid using words you might misread during your talk when you glance at your notes.

If you wrote, “It assures our success” on a note card for a presentation you were going to give, it would be easy to mistakenly read it as “assumes” if you glanced only briefly at it during the talk – especially if you were talking fast.

If you’re going to refer to written notes during a live presentation, think through the words you’re writing down. Ask yourself if you can imagine misreading any of those words when the crowd is in front of you (“darling” for “daring,” for example). Cut out words that could easily be mistaken for others.

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2. Watch out for words you regularly stumble over.

A confession: I almost always mispronounce “distribute” and its variations–distributing, distribution, distributor, etc. I’ll often place the emphasis on the wrong syllable and say “dis-tributors” or “distrib-utors.” So I never use any variation of distribute in my public talks. It’s one less thing to worry about.

During a live presentation, you get just one chance to deliver each line, each word, flawlessly. If you stumble over or mispronounce a word, it can severely disrupt your flow. If it happens more than a few times, it can also make both you and your audience uncomfortable. So monitor yourself for particular words that trip you up–your own versions of “distribute”–and make a point of keeping those words out of your talks.

It’s also a good idea not to use long, complex words. All of us occasionally trip over words like “inexplicable” or “extemporaneously.” So try not to include words like these in your presentations.

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3. Avoid words or phrases that might confuse your audience.

Former presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan, in her book On Speaking Well, tells an interesting story about a foreign policy speech she wrote for President Reagan. After reviewing the draft, Reagan’s chief of staff handed it back to Noonan and told her to change the phrase “muscular altruism.” When Noonan asked why, he said, “It sounds like a disease.”

What the chief of staff realized was that when people hear the word muscular, they think “dystrophy.” Add to that the fact that the second word in Noonan’s phrase is a word most people don’t know and which ends in “ism,” and you can see where the whole phrase could confuse and even frighten the public.

When crafting your presentation, think through any words or phrases that your audience might misconstrue or even hear incorrectly (because they’re so used to hearing those words in different contexts). Then find different words to make the same points.

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One final thought for anyone reading this who works for the Department of Education: Please do whatever you can to stop that horrible read-aloud practice that fills school kids with terror!

Featured photo credit: Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation. Audience at the conference hall. via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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