Overcome Anxiety to Communicate with Confidence (by Reading This Post)

August 19, 2019


When nerves hit, communication often flails. Whether it’s butterflies in the tummy or a full-on anxiety attack, we’ve all felt the pain. 

Media and Presentation Coach Jeff Ansel knows this feeling well. After a handful of panic attacks live on the air, the former radio and TV anchor knew something had to change. 

In his course, Communicating with Confidence, Ansel shares tools he’s used to transform his clients—and himself —into more connected, compelling, and confident communicators.

Whether you’re asking for a raise, prepping for a job or media interview, or getting ready for a big keynote, try these simple yet powerful strategies.

What makes a confident communicator? 

Good speakers are grounded, comfortable in their own skin, and look and sound like they mean what they say. Confident communicators, says Ansel, “connect to others through words, gestures, and voice.”

In the 1970s, UCLA’s Professor of Psychology Albert Mehrabian conducted a study that found only 7% of what we communicate is based on the literal content of the message—the words we use. If words play such a small role in making an impression, what’s left? 

Nonverbal communication. How we sound, such as tone and volume, accounts for 38% of how others perceive us, while visual cues (e.g. body language, facial expressions) account for as much as 55%. 

Commonly referred to as the “three Vs”—visual, vocal, and verbal— Mehrabian’s communication model is still used today. In fact, the combination of these elements, says Ansel, is what fuels charisma.

Even if public speaking doesn’t come naturally, don’t worry. Try these five communication tips that are easy to use, and that will help you “fake it ‘til you make it.”

1. Breathe with your belly

All too often we stop breathing when things get challenging: walking into a difficult conversation, trying to respond to a tough question, losing our place during a presentation. But holding your breath only makes things harder. 

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’ve probably heard of diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing. But breathwork isn’t just for the mat. It’s an essential ingredient for effective communication—a way to relax the nervous system and stay focused on what you’re saying, especially if you’re prone to anxiety. Here’s how it works:

  • As you exhale through your nose, pull your belly in slowly and gently, for 3-5 seconds. 

  • Then, as you inhale, relax your belly muscles into a “buddha belly” for another 3-5 seconds—without puffing out your chest. 

  • Breath out, belly in; breathe in, belly out. 

Remembering to breathe this way takes discipline and practice. To make it a habit, try belly breathing several times throughout the day: before you walk out the door in the morning, when you first sit down at your computer, before eating a meal. That way, your body knows how to do it when the stakes are high and you have an audience.

2. Name your intention

We’ve all read about how setting intentions helps us live our values, manifest our goals, and find the motivation to achieve our purpose in life. That’s powerful stuff! 

Zoom the lens in and you’ll see that intention setting is also valuable in setting the tone for interpersonal communication. 

In advance of (or even in the moment) of important conversations or presentations, ask yourself: what words would I use to describe how I want to be seen and perceived in this situation?

  • Asking your boss for a promotion? Words like experienced, confident, capable, and deserving come to mind. 

  • Sharing constructive feedback with a colleague? You’ll likely want to be accessible, clear, knowledgeable, and maybe even enlightening.

  • In an emotionally-charged conversation? It’s important to be genuine, concerned, and empathetic.

When you first connect with yourself, you’ll be better prepared to more fully connect with others.

3. Make eye contact count

In an era when we gaze at a screen for minutes and hours at a time, the power of human eye contact cannot be overstated.

It’s a basic human need to be seen, and when we hold someone’s gaze, it communicates I see you—and in turn, I hear you. It’s a fundamental action for engaging an audience, whether it’s an audience of one, or thousands. 

One go-to trick that you can practice with every new encounter is to make eye contact long enough that you can identify a person’s eye color. Give it a try! (It’s actually more difficult than it sounds.)

Another tool, more appropriate for presenting to a dozen people in a meeting or even an audience of hundreds, is to commit to delivering one thought to one person at a time. Hold their eyes for a second or two to confirm they caught the thought—“as if to say thank you very much for engaging,” Ansel explains. 

If it’s an especially important message, hold eye contact even longer, for a couple more seconds than usual, to give your words more emphasis.

4. Speak slowly

Ansel’s one-at-a-time approach also applies to your cadence of speech. To convey confidence, speak slowly and naturally—one thought at a time. 

Delivering one thought at a time slows down the racing brain, helping to keep you calm, centered, and present, he explains. And this of course leads to a level of mindfulness conducive to being a more agile and responsive speaker. 

Most importantly, embrace the pause. Too often we try to fill the void with “uhs” and “ums” and other nervous ticks. Try not to fall into that trap. 

Instead, be intentional about pausing, which gives your listeners time to absorb, process, and assimilate what you’re saying—like in these instances:

  • Before and after most sentences

  • After a really important message

  • After a rhetorical question

  • After a request or call to action

Bonus points if you can belly breathe during every pause!

5. Don’t be afraid to use your hands 

One of the best ways to manage nerves is through strong hand gestures. When we use our hands in a deliberate fashion, we flick away the anxiety, Ansel explains.

So what does that look like? Fingers open and spread slightly apart with a slight curl—from that position, your hand and arm motions will look natural, reinforcing rather than distracting from your message.

Ansel likes to quip that “the hand bone is connected to the voice bone.” The more you use your hands, the stronger your voice; and the more inflection in your voice, the easier it is for people to hear what you’re saying. 

This is especially useful if you tend to speak softly or in a monotone. Even if your voice doesn’t make an impact on its own, you can rely on your body language to back it up. 

Most important of all, remember it’s not about perfection; it’s about practice. 

Ansel shares that his big breakthrough came when he realized he needed to stop trying to be a perfect speaker: “What I say is important… but I’m simply the less-than-perfect vessel through which information flows.” 

Realizing this helped him go easier on himself, which freed him up to focus on what’s truly important: connecting with his audience with confidence.

Want to learn more? Watch Jeff Ansel’s Communicating with Confidence to explore more communication tips that are easy to use and produce immediate results.

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