Ever wondered how Beyonce got so damn confident? Contrary to what you might think she wasn’t actually born with it. Beyonce opened up in 2008 to Oprah Winfrey and discussed her struggles with anxiety around performance. She introduced us to her alter ego Sasha Fierce, who she says gave her the confidence to become the performer she wanted to be. Sasha was eventually retired in 2010, when Beyonce felt she had matured enough as a performer to no longer need her as a coping strategy. Beyonce is certainly not the first to use an alter ego to help manage anxiety. Rowan Atkinson credits his Mr. Bean character with helping him to manage his nervous stutter, and Adele, a self confessed Beyonce stan, named her alter ego Sasha Carter after trying out the method herself. There's a good reason this is a popular approach. Psychologists are pretty interested in the potential benefits for creating an alter ego for yourself to overcome negative emotions and behaviors. They have given it a suitably cool name: The Batman effect.
The theory goes a little something like this: Creating an alter ego for yourself is a form of self distancing, and allows you to remove yourself from you the immediate, and often irrational and undesirable feelings you get from an activity.
A lot of the original research on the Batman effect began with children. The children in the experiment were told they were taking part in a “very important” activity which was actually designed to be incredibly boring and test their concentration. The children sat in front of a computer and watched multiple pictures pop up. Every Time they saw a picture of cheese they needed to press the space bar. In order to try and motivate them, the children were told they were being excellent helpers by doing this activity. If the task got too boring, they had to think about their feelings. The children were divided into three groups. One group was told to ask themselves “Am I working hard?”, while others were told to ask themselves the same question, but in third person (i.e. “Is Sarah working hard?”). The final group could think of themselves as their favorite character, such as Batman, and ask themselves “Is Batman working hard?” - Hence the name, the Batman effect. Compared to the students who asked themselves “Am I working hard?”, the students that asked themselves in third person spent 10% longer on the activity. The students who thought about themselves as their favorite character spent 23% longer on the activity. Since this study was conducted, psychologists have conducted similar studies with adults and have shown that this self-distancing technique can help people to make healthier diet and exercise choices, and persevere through difficult puzzle tasks
So how can you use the Batman effect to conquer your own fears and anxieties around public speaking? You could take a leaf out of Beyonce's book and create the character you want to be. There are many complex character development techniques you could use, or you could just start by brainstorming the traits you want to have. Alternatively, you could pick a person or character that already embodies the traits you want to have as a speaker. You don’t just have to save this as a pre-performance ritual either. You could utilize this in every step of your presentation development stage, from planning to presenting. Not sure how to get your audience's attention? Ask yourself, what would Beyonce do? Doubting your ideas? Would Beyonce ever doubt herself like this? Meeting a new group of people? #WhatWouldBeyonceDo?
One last word to the wise: Even though it worked for Rowan Atkinson, I wouldn’t recommend asking yourself “What would Mr. Bean do?” as the answer is probably something along the lines of “Get into a fight with a folding camping chair”. Entertaining? C