Ep 69, Feeling Nervous? How Anxiety Can Fuel Better Communication | Summary and Q&A

October 11, 2022
Stanford GSB Podcasts
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Ep 69, Feeling Nervous? How Anxiety Can Fuel Better Communication

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In this podcast episode, Matt Abrahams interviews Kelly McGonigal, a lecturer at Stanford GSB and author of several books on stress and movement. They discuss how anxiety can be beneficial for communication and share strategies for managing anxiety. They also explore common mistakes in communication and the importance of engaging the audience. McGonigal emphasizes the value of movement and exercise for overall well-being and happiness.

Questions & Answers

Q: How can we leverage the benefits of anxiety for communication?

McGonigal, who has personally experienced anxiety, believes that anxiety can be a positive sign that we care about something. By reframing anxiety as a signal of meaning, we can embrace it and use it to stay engaged and wholehearted. Anxiety can provide the energy and motivation we need to excel in moments that matter.

Q: What are common mistakes students make in communication?

McGonigal works with PhD students on improving their communication skills. One common mistake she sees is the excessive use of abstractions instead of concrete examples. She encourages students to use stories, artifacts, or visuals to make their research more relatable and understandable. Another mistake is the mindset of academics feeling the need to prove their knowledge and persuade others, which can result in fast-paced delivery and avoidance of critical discussions. McGonigal emphasizes the importance of inviting audience thoughts and questions, allowing for a more engaging and fruitful conversation.

Q: Why is exercise important for life and well-being?

McGonigal believes that exercise not only benefits physical health but also contributes to happiness, better relationships, and a greater sense of meaning in life. She highlights the powerful connection between movement and joy, explaining that certain movements associated with joy, such as jumping for joy, can actually trigger positive emotions. McGonigal developed a "joy workout" to help people experience the physical and emotional benefits of movement in a fun and meaningful way.

Q: How does Kelly McGonigal approach crafting her communication?

McGonigal's communication process starts with envisioning the best possible outcome for her audience. She thinks about what they need to hear and experience in order to achieve that outcome. McGonigal plans her content blocks, which include stories, case studies, and scientific studies, to deliver her message effectively. She aims to be audience-centric, guiding her audience through a meaningful journey of understanding and reflection.

Q: Who is a communicator that Kelly McGonigal admires?

McGonigal shares her admiration for Natalie Goldberg, an author and Zen teacher. She appreciates Goldberg's authentic and grounded communication style, where every detail and experience shared feels significant. Goldberg's way of connecting with her audience through stories and common humanity resonates with McGonigal.

Q: What are the key ingredients for successful communication?

McGonigal suggests three key ingredients for successful communication, based on the teachings of Gail Larsen. The first ingredient is the face of wonder, which represents curiosity and open-mindedness. The second is the face of creative fire, symbolizing passion and drive. The third is the face of rude magnificence, which entails sharing difficult truths or insights based on personal experience or deep reflection. These ingredients foster engaging and impactful communication.


The way we approach communication and manage anxiety can greatly impact our confidence and effectiveness. Anxiety can be a sign of caring and engagement, and reframing it positively can help us channel its energy into meaningful communication. It is essential to avoid common communication mistakes such as excessive use of abstractions and lack of audience engagement. Concrete examples, artifacts, and relatable language can enhance understanding and connection. Exercise and movement play a vital role in overall well-being and happiness, and incorporating joyful movement into our lives can have transformative effects. Curiosity, passion, and authentic wisdom are key ingredients for successful communication that resonates with audiences.

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