It is an unfortunate coincidence that this year's graduates must experience both elation and trepidation at the same time. While they rightfully deserve to bask in their academic accomplishments and celebrate, these young men and women must also confront one of our biggest fears as they prepare to interview for jobs or graduate school. Speaking in front of others can be terrifying, especially when your audience is very explicitly evaluating and judging you. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked, "At a funeral, people would rather be in the casket than deliver the eulogy." The fear of presenting in front of others can be very limiting -- in terms of career and future.
The good news is that with practice and persistence nervous and novice graduates can become more confident and compelling. In what follows, I present three easy-to-implement anxiety management techniques. The best way to become more confident and less anxious during interviews is to reframe your approach. This anxiety-reducing cognitive action can take one of three forms:
Acknowledge your fear. The first technique involves reframing the physical, emotional and mental anxiety reactions you experience prior to interviewing as typical and natural. These sensations do not show anything beyond your body's normal response to something that is potentially threatening. Avoid giving these natural responses special significance. In fact, you can greet or accept these reactions by saying to yourself: "Here are those anxiety feelings again. It makes sense that I feel nervous; I am about to interview for a position I really want." This type of acknowledgement is empowering and dampens your anxiety and increases your agency, rather than allowing your nervousness to make you even more nervous.
Converse rather than perform. Another reframing effort that helps relieve speaking anxiety has to do with seeing your interview as different from a performance. In performing, you place a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself "to get it right." A less stressful and more engaging approach is to frame your interview as a conversation. How do you become conversational? First, when you practice (and you should practice), sit at a coffee table or at a coffee shop with friends or family to talk through common interview questions. Second, include the word "you" frequently when speaking. "You" provides a direct, verbal connection with your audience and leads to a more conversational tone and approach.
Put your interviewer's needs before your own. The final reframing technique that can reduce interview anxiety involves changing the relationship you envision having with your interviewer. You likely approach an interview thinking "here's what I need to tell my interviewer," and then proceed to develop and ultimately deliver your thoughts and ideas. A better, more thorough approach to your interview would be to begin by asking the question: "What does my interviewer need to hear?" While this approach initially sounds similar to "here's what I need to tell my interviewer," the difference is striking. By embracing an interviewer-focused approach, you will not only engage your interviewer more -- since you're giving her what she needs, but you will take the spotlight -- and stress -- off of yourself, which will allow you to be less nervous.
The above anxiety management reframing techniques not only can bolster graduates' confidence and connection during their interviews, but these techniques can also be employed during another common activity associated with graduations...giving congratulatory toasts. Delivering toasts are the most common speaking event for most people, and the anxiety they bring with them is palpable. By acknowledging that the jitters associated with toasting are normal and natural, using a conversational approach, and focusing the toast on the needs of the toast recipients needs, you can deliver an impactful and less stressful toast.
Here's to the class of 2015! May they celebrate their accomplishments and communicate them confidently.