Nathan Sykes

March 18, 2021

Optimal Anxiety Helps You Perform Better

One of the last 'normal' things I did before we all started lockdown in March of 2020 was give a TEDx talk in Miami on creating perfect environments for teen entrepreneurs. In addition to a TEDx talk being a rather prestigious talk to give, I had another layer of complexity - my speech disfluency.

I've had a significant speech disfluency as far back as I can remember. According to my speech therapists, it did calm down at some point in the fourth or fifth grade, but spiked right back up again when my parents were going through a divorce. It's been with me ever since. Aren't I lucky?

There have been days and weeks where I have had significant struggles with speech. I would have trouble piecing together words and sentences. People who were speaking with me, either in person or on the phone, were able to tell that I was having trouble speaking. It wasn't a great feeling.

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Slowly but surely, with practice and self-discipline, my speech began to return. It's now plateaued at a level that I'm more-or-less satisfied with: I still have disfluent moments, but for the most part, I'm doing alright.

In February of 2020, however, I was not at that point. I arrived a day or two before, and had the opportunity to go out to dinner and bond with my fellow TEDx speakers. One of the speakers was the former mayor of South Miami, Philip Stoddard. As we were each getting ready to go on stage and present the talk that we had been working on, Professor Stoddard offered our speaking group one key piece of advice - the anxiety we were all feeling was 'optimal anxiety', and it was a natural reaction. It would help us maximize performance as we went out to give our TEDx talks.

Did it help? I think so! If you rewatch the video, you'll see I stutter a bit and I talk too quickly, a result of only having eight minutes to present, and my aforementioned speech disfluency. But I do believe it helped keep me on track, remember my talking points, and connect with the audience.

If you're feeling anxious about something good, like a public speaking engagement, a concert, or an important meeting, I'd recommend embracing the anxiety - it's there to look out for you.

I'm writing about anxiety as I'm passing the time, waiting for a college decision. By the time that I post this, I'll already know what it is, so I'm not sure why I'm including this footnote. Wish me luck!