October 22, 2016 fm

The Anxiety Equation

It was cold outside, but warm were the hearts of our Finnish friends. On October 20-21, I attended the event “Master the Art of Presenting” in Helsinki, organized by my fellow Toastmaster Timo Sorri and his company Havain. It was an amazing event full of priceless inspiration. In this article I share with you one of the diamonds of wisdom.

I followed the kind invitation of my friend and business partner John Zimmer. He had been collaborating with Timo for two years already. John hadn’t promised too much. The event was very well organized; 80 attendants were the proof of great work. I particularly liked the mix of keynote speeches, workshops and networking sessions.

The diamond of wisdom has to do with your brain. The Finnish brain researcher Mona Moisala talked about the reasons of anxiety and stage fright and how we all can boost our self-confidence when it comes to public speaking.

At the beginning of her talk, Mona went deep into science. I’ve already forgotten all the brainy expressions. But – I’ve not forgotten the three main factors that influence our level of anxiety.

First, our genetics. No genetic code is the same. Some people have phobia of public speaking written in their code, others haven’t.

Second, personality. Apparently, extroverted people have natural advantages in public speaking compared to introverts. There are more shy people, there are more outgoing people. Personality is personality.

Third, our past experiences. Traumatic past experiences like a hall full of fellow students laughing at your theater performance at the age of 11 can cause a higher level of anxiety.

Genetics (G), personality (P), past experiences (E) – all of them are boosters of anxiety. Good news is that there are also cognitive factors (C) that can actively reduce your level of anxiety. The more you apply them the more you reduce your level of anxiety.

Inspired by Mona Moisala, I put it all together in the Anxiety Equation:


Mona shared with us seven cognitive factors:

  • Posture, smile. It is scientifically proven that positive body language and smile have a direct impact on your emotions. When you smile you feel better.
  • Breathe. There are two nervous systems in our body. When fear and anxiety hit us, our body reacts autonomously. With one excection: we can steer our breathing. Deep and slow breathing has an easing effect. We calm down.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. When you speak in public more often, your level of anxiety goes down. You simply get used to it. A wonderful place for repeating your public exposure is Toastmasters International.
  • Use your frontal lobes. You can think.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation every day. Science is more and more convinced of its effects.
  • Approach fear with curiosity! I love this one.
  • Be more empathetic towards yourself. Empathy is one of the top qualities of a speaker. It’s great to show empathy with your audience. But – what about yourself?

Thank you, Mona, for your great insights. Thank you, Timo, for having me in Helsinki. Thank you, John, for your kind introduction. I’ll be back with a second diamond of wisdom.

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