Overcoming Performance Anxiety: Tips for Students and Parents

Posted by Tisha Harris on 5/1/2024

If you've ever felt your heart race, palms sweat, and knees wobble at the mere thought of a final test or public speaking, don't worry – you're not alone! The fear of public speaking, known as glossophobia, is very common. It’s estimated that 75% of people have this fear to one degree or another. Test Anxiety affects between 10% and 40% of students. Performance anxiety affects people of all ages, but it's particularly common among high school and college students or young adults in the workplace. We’re here to share some fantastic tips to help you conquer those nerves and shine on stage or in class.

Embrace the Butterflies

It's normal to feel anxious before speaking in front of others. The same goes for test preparation. Instead of seeing it as a weakness, view it as a sign that you care about doing well. Embrace those butterflies in your stomach; they are your body's way of preparing for a great performance!

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Preparation is key to reducing anxiety. Familiarize yourself with the content and practice regularly. Rehearse in front of a mirror, with friends, or family. Study with friends and challenge each other. The more prepared you are, the more confident you'll feel, and confidence is the opposite of fear.

Know Your Audience

When it comes to public speaking or classroom presentations, understanding your audience is important. Tailor your message to resonate with them. This connection can make you feel more at ease and feel like you're speaking to friends rather than strangers.

Start Small

If you're new to public speaking, don't start with a massive crowd. Practice with a couple of friends. If you can, increase the number gradually. As you increase the audience size, you’ll gain confidence. The same principle applies to testing. Take practice quizzes, then move into full practice tests. This allows you to experience the feel of ‘the real thing’ before it happens.

Visualization Techniques

Athletes have been using visualization to overcome performance anxiety for decades. Picture yourself acing the exam or presentation. Imagine positive feedback, maybe even applause. Visualization can help build self-assurance and reduce anxiety.

Breathe and Relax

When the nerves start to kick in, breathing exercises can help. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is a commonly recommended one. Harvard University published a blog to help their students understand how to use breathing to ease anxiety. Incorporating breathing exercises into daily routines serves as an invaluable coping mechanism. This practice fosters a heightened awareness of the present moment, facilitating emotional regulation and stress reduction. Deep breathing, as a relaxation technique, can be effortlessly integrated into moments of heightened stress, providing immediate relief.

Focus on Your Mission, Not Yourself

Shift your internal focus away from yourself and towards your mission. For speaking, concentrate on delivering value to your audience. When you care about what you're saying, anxiety tends to take a backseat. As it applies to testing, focus on understanding the question fully, then applying the learning you have already done in preparation.

Engage with Your Audience

During presentations, interact with your audience to create a more dynamic atmosphere. Ask questions, encourage participation, or share relatable anecdotes. Engaging with others can ease tension and make the experience enjoyable for everyone. Not only does it help with your anxiety, but it makes your audience feel more interested.

Make Mistakes Gracefully

No one is perfect, and that's okay! If you stumble or make a mistake, don't let it derail you. Acknowledge it, laugh it off, and keep going. Remember, your audience is on your side and wants you to succeed.

Re-frame Negative Thoughts

Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Instead of thinking, "What if I mess up?" say to yourself, "I've prepared well, and I can do this!" Here is a guide to cognitive reframing exercises that can help you apply one to your situation.

Celebrate Your Successes

Each time you conquer performance anxiety and deliver a successful presentation or ace an exam, pat yourself on the back! Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. It's all part of your growth journey.

Remember, public speaking and taking exams are skills that can be developed with time and practice. Be patient with yourself, and don't be too hard on your first few attempts. Embrace the learning process and know that everyone deals with anxiety. So, go out there and nail that presentation or test!

Hand holding pencil to fill in test