Do you have Zoom meeting anxiety? If so, this may sound all too familiar:
- Your heart is pounding
- You’re breaking into a cold sweat
- You can’t even remember your name, much less what you want to say
- Your hands are shaking
- You open your mouth and only a squeak comes out.
So what’s happening that’s so anxiety producing?
Well, you’re at home, in front of your computer, in your underwear and a dress shirt. You’re on a company Zoom call. And your boss has just called your name. If this isn’t the worst time for Zoom meeting anxiety to strike, I’m not sure what is.
What do you do?
In this deer-in-the-headlights moment you have many choices. You could hit “end meeting,” you could leave town, you could get up (but everyone would see your underwear.)
Or, you can stay seated for the rest of this article. I’m going to give you 7 proven strategies to banish Zoom meeting anxiety once and for all. And yes, I’m wearing pants. (In case you were wondering)
#1 Be prepared and banish zoom anxiety
The amount of anxiety you feel in a performance situation is proportionate to the difficulty of the task. Think of a task you find easy to do. For me, it would be checking my email. I would say that I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now.
If I was on a zoom call with 10,000 people and they were all watching me check my email, I probably wouldn’t feel nervous, because the task is so easy.
Now, if I had to recite the U.S. Declaration of Independence from memory on that same Zoom call, I would probably feel quite nervous because I’m not prepared.
Now if I really were going to do this recitation, I would need to practice it until I felt comfortable with it. How comfortable? Well…almost as easy as checking my email.
I know this is an extreme example, but the principle is always the same. The better you know your presentation, the more practiced you are at it, the less likely you’ll have anxiety.
Here’s what it means to be prepared
- Knowing your topic inside and out so that you’re able to answer unexpected questions
- Being able to give your presentation without reading notes (glancing at them occasionally is OK)
- Feeling comfortable giving the presentation without an audience (and being mentally present when you do so)
- Feel comfortable with the technology (slides, Zoom app)
- Have a backup strategy in case technology fails
If you can’t honestly check all these boxes, you’re probably unprepared. Most people underestimate the amount of work that goes into a good speech.
When I gave a keynote presentation to 150 hypnotherapists at the 2019 International Board of Hypnotherapy Symposium, I wrote my outline five months in advance. I started practicing 30 minutes everyday, two months before the talk.
On the big day, I was anxious at first, but then it quickly diminished because I was so well prepared. The talk went off without a hitch and I got a lot of compliments.
The fact is, preparing to present takes time – a lot of time. At minimum, it takes 1-2 weeks to fully prepare for a presentation. My mantra when it comes to preparing for talks whether in person or virtual: practice, practice, practice.
#2 Breathe Abdominally
When your adrenaline is flowing, the first thing to go wrong is your breathing. Your breaths become rapid and shallow. This leads to a chain reaction of physiological breakdowns as the anxiety feeds off itself – all to the detriment of your performance. Left unchecked, this chain-reaction could lead to a full-blown panic attack.
Fortunately, you can largely control the anxiety response by controlling your breathing. You want your breathing to be deep and slow. Be careful not to take in too much air. (Too much oxygen in your system can lead to panic) Even involuntary reactions like heart rate can be slowed down when you gain control over your breathing.
Here’s what you’ll notice during proper breathing:
- Your lower stomach will push out slightly as you inhale
- Your chest will move very little
- You’ll be breathing slower
Prepare for your talks by taking several deep breaths before you start. If anxiety ramps up during your talk, pause, and take a deep abdominal breath.
I must stress that you will not be able to figure out proper breathing during the talk. It needs to be practiced beforehand. Soon, in any anxious situation, you’ll be able to center yourself with abdominal breathing.
#3 Do your presentation in slow motion (No, I’m serious)
When you are anxious, you do everything faster. That’s because your entire system speeds up and your perception of time is altered. On Zoom meetings, it will seem to you like you are speaking at a normal speed, when you are actually going way too fast. And this extra speed only gives you more anxiety.
The solution is to slow down: reduce your speaking speed, take longer pauses, take longer breaths, pause between sentences. Remember, you have plenty of time.
In an anxious situation, if you present at 60-70% of what you think is normal speed, you will feel more relaxed, your audience will feel more at ease, and you will likely be perceived as more confident and in control.
#4 Stop trying to control the uncontrollable (it only feeds zoom meeting anxiety)
Most people who suffer from Zoom meeting anxiety are enmeshed in a struggle over what other people think of them. They want to “come off as confident” to other people.
The problem is, what other people think about you is out of your control. Epictetus (50-135 AD) said that anxiety is caused when people do tasks like singing on stage to seek approval. In this case, getting approval becomes the central focus instead of the task at hand. It’s distracting at best and a losing battle at worst
If you want to overcome Zoom anxiety, you’re going to want to let go of all notions of what other people think about you. Let go of all that, be present with the task at hand, and you have a good chance at managing your anxiety.
#5 The gloves are off, or are they?
Maxwell Maltz, author of Psycho-Cybernetics (book review coming soon – in the meantime, read this one) says that the secret to performing under pressure is to practice without pressure. In the book, he gives the example of shadow boxing. To prepare for being in the ring for real, you need to practice boxing without any pressure. That means practicing without an audience/opponent.
The good news is that you don’t have to buy a pair of boxing gloves. You can shadow box by practicing your presentation alone, or maybe put on a private show for your pet. There’s no way your cat will judge you…if she wants her dinner, that is.
Shadow boxing my sales presentation
Recently, I switched to a new sales presentation. Before I gave it to a real person, I practiced saying it to an empty room.
I also knew some of my consultations would be over Zoom. So, I opened Zoom, started an empty meeting, and practiced the whole presentation there.
In total, I practiced the full presentation about 20 times before I met with a real person.
Ideal mindset for shadow boxing
Pay attention to your mindset when you’re practicing. If you’re judging yourself, then you’ll probably be anxious on the big way. You’ll likely project your own judgments onto others so that it seems like “people are judging me,” when in reality, you’re just judging yourself.
Your job during that presentation is to put your blinders on and just do it. What I mean is that you don’t want to evaluate (judge) yourself during the presentation. This will only cause more anxiety.
There’s plenty of time to evaluate your talk later. During your shadow boxing sessions, your goal is to get through the talk without judging yourself. If you can do that, your positive mindset will probably carry over to the real talk. If you can’t, you need more shadow boxing before you’re ready for prime time. Remember: practice, practice, practice.
#6 Have a dress rehearsal
After you become comfortable with shadow boxing, you want to try out your presentation under pressure. But, you’re not ready for that meeting just yet. You need a dress rehearsal. You know what our friend Murphy says about things that can go wrong. So, because they will go wrong, just let them go wrong – in the dress rehearsal. And it’s OK to make mistakes because it’s only a dress rehearsal. You’ll have time to work them out before the big day.
The Zoom dress rehearsal
Next, you want to apply a little pressure. Here’s how you do it. Ask a couple of colleagues or friends to get on a Zoom “dress rehearsal” and watch you do your presentation. You can even get some feedback.
This way, you can practice dealing with anxiety in a controlled environment before it has any negative consequences to your career.
The dress rehearsal will show any cracks in your preparation. For example, if those thoughts of people judging you come back, that means you need more pregame relaxation and more practice being present. In this case, go back and do more shadow boxing.
#7 Evaluate yourself fairly to end zoom meeting anxiety
In order to stop judging yourself, it’s important to evaluate yourself fairly. This is done by a “feedback sandwich,” a method I learned from Toastmasters, a public speaking club you may consider joining. Here is the feedback sandwich:
- Name 2 things you liked about your presentation
- Name 1 thing you would like to improve
- Name 1 more thing you liked
Evaluating your presentation in this way will give you a “fair and balanced” view of your speaking. For every weakness, you’ll identify 3 things that went well. This means you’ll have more confidence the next time you speak. Before long, you’ll be a pro at Zoom presentations.
So, there you have it – 7 tips to manage Zoom anxiety. Are they sexy? No. Do they work? Yes. So, put your pants back on, and get to work on your next presentation. I promise, on both fronts, you won’t regret it.