Five years ago, if you’d told me I had to make a presentation in front of an audience or even talk about my research to my team or organization, I would have had nightmares about it for weeks. 

I was so scared of speaking in public that I’d make excuses to dodge it or delay it indefinitely. If it was thrust upon me, I’d often freeze altogether. 

Over time, I realized it was important to fight my fears and try new things; so I stopped running away from public speaking. I still feel anxious when addressing an audience, but I am happy if I stammer a little less, do not repeat myself multiple times and just manage to get my point across. 

My long-term goal is to become a confident public speaker. And I plan to get there one step at a time. 

It’s natural to resist doing something challenging for fear of failure and negative judgment. However, what we often don’t realize is that this negative judgment may only be in our heads. We can all step out of our comfort zones and fight this voice in our heads.

I overcame my lack of confidence by using German educator Tom Senninger’s Learning Zone model from Harappa’s Leading Self course. The model seeks to understand the different levels in the process of learning and growth. 

Taking Constructive Action To Develop A Growth Mindset

If you are passionate about developing your skills, you will get better. Initially, I always thought I’d work on my goals when I felt more comfortable and confident. The Learning Zone model helped me understand that confidence is not the starting point but a result of your experiences. Developing confidence starts with embracing change, challenging yourself, and in the process, becoming resilient. 

Which Zone Am I in?

The first step to building confidence is to identify which zone you’re in. The Learning Zone Model consists of three levels: Comfort Zone, Learning Zone and Panic Zone. I needed to identify activities I was most comfortable doing to understand my Comfort Zone. Areas that made me uncomfortable but which could be used as learning opportunities comprised my Learning Zone. My Panic Zone comprised of the things that terrified me and I felt unable to tackle.

Here's what I found:

My Comfort Zone:

I realized that I felt comfortable sharing ideas and asking questions in daily meetings as I was familiar with the team members. I was even comfortable leading these sessions. However, to discover new strengths and untapped potential, I needed to step out of my Comfort Zone into the Learning Zone.

My Learning Zone:

To enter the Learning Zone is to tread into unfamiliar territory. For me, this was making a presentation in front of people outside my team. Stepping outside my Comfort Zone makes me nervous and I have to constantly fight my fears, apprehensions and inhibitions. Here is how I go about making my Learning Zone a part of my Comfort Zone:

  1. Challenge my internal interferences: The inner voice in my head always pulls me down by telling me “I am a failure”, “ I will never be confident”, “Nobody will be impressed” or “I will mess up”. I overcome this critical voice by being kind to myself and countering it with positive statements to boost my confidence. 

  1. Build confidence on accomplishment: I make it a point to recall the times I had small wins. Moments or milestones of success help you feel more confident. I visualize my presentation going well and replay small instances where I was proud of my presentation skills in my head to remind myself of my true potential. 

  1. Tackle my emotions: Sometimes I find myself struggling to understand why I am feeling nervous or stressed. The only way to get to the bottom of it is to take your emotions head-on and tackle them. Your emotions can be seen in your body language. When faced with challenges, I try to look within and gather the courage to fight back. 

  1.  Try to not be hard on myself: Being kind to yourself in a stressful situation always helps. I plan and strategize how to tackle nervousness. I de-stress by listening to some calming music and having a hot beverage. The key here is to regulate your emotions and prevent an outburst. 

  1. Push myself to do better each time: One way to overcome my fears or anxieties is to focus on small wins. Confidence is honed through practice. Rehearse what you would like to say, make notes and refer to them until you are comfortable and confident. I tell myself that each encounter is an opportunity to get better. 

  1. Take feedback: Seek support from a trusted friend or colleague and take their inputs on how you can improve further. Remember to be open to critical feedback and strive to work on their suggestions. This has helped me immensely. 

My Panic or Terror Zone:

Outside my Learning Zone is the Panic Zone. Making a presentation at a company-wide meeting of 200-plus peers or even to an external client comes under my Panic Zone. Normally, I would stay far away from this zone. This zone triggers both the flight and freeze responses.

The key to navigating your Terror Zone is incrementally incorporating smaller elements from your Panic Zone into your Learning Zone. Learning is a never-ending process and you should be willing to take constructive action to get better. Take risks in your Learning Zone to be better prepared for the Panic Zone. 

Though I have been working on myself, I still need to cover some distance to become absolutely confident. 

Nainika Seth is an Associate with the Learning Impact Team at Harappa Education. She is a postgraduate in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Loughborough University, United Kingdom. She enjoys baking and photography. 

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