The Empowered Learners: Set Yourself Up for Success with Helen von Dadelszen!

One of the hardest part of taking an exam, going on a first date, or making a public speaking appearance, is the stress that comes along. It's not just you, even professional public speakers, experienced teachers, and world-renowned singers get "butterflies" in the stomach before an important event!

Today we're discussing the various techniques for stress management with professional confidence coach Helen von Dadelszen. In this podcast you will learn about breathing, grounding, and changing the soundtrack in your mind to get in the right mindset and set yourself for success!

And if you believe in the power of exposure in order to overcome the stress of it, we suggest enrolling into our Summer Intensive Group program. This is the perfect opportunity to improve your French skills in a small group of fellow learners and reach level A1, A2 and B1 by the end of the summer! Learn more about our Small Group Programs :

Boost Your Confidence with Helen:


Isabelle: Hi everyone! Bonjour tout le monde.

Aujourd'hui, nous en sommes à notre quatrième épisode The Empowered Learners. J'ai mis la chanson Geronimo because it really is about Geronimo, C'est un mot qu'on utilise pour le se lancer dans le vide, Geronimo, and that's all we're gonna talk about today, stress before throwing yourself out there, at an exam or stressful situation.

Alors, je suis un peu entre les deux, le français, l'anglais. Aujourd'hui, mon invité, c'est Helen von Dadelszen. I hope Helen I'm pronouncing your name properly.

Helen: Parfait.

Isabelle: C'est un très grand plaisir Helen de pouvoir discuter avec toi ce midi à propos de tes as astuces pour mieux gérer notre stress avant et pendant nos examens. Et aujourd'hui, on va parler justement des examens de français peut être que certains d'entre vous devaient passer l'examen de fide.

Alors voilà. Ce sont des petits types, des petites astuces pour nous aider à mieux gérer notre stress. Donc Hellen, tu es originaire de la Nouvelle-Zélande. Tu vis en Europe depuis près de 20 ans. Et puis tu es à Nyon en Suisse Romande  depuis 19 ans maintenant. Et tu as obtenu ta naturalisation suisse en 2020.

Alors Helen, la petite histoire. Elle possède une expérience variée dans les domaines des ressources humaines, du recrutement, des organisations à but non lucratif et même d'un événementiel. Elle a fait beaucoup de choses différentes. Elle adore le chant comme moi. On est deux femmes du monde du spectacle. Elle adore le théâtre et c'est une toastmaster qui est primée.

Alors toastmaster, pour ceux qui ne connaissent pas, ce n'est pas le pain grillé, ça n'a rien à voir avec ça. Vous l'aurez compris. En 2019, Helen va fonder Present Potential. C'est une académie qui est dédiée au renforcement de la confiance en soi et à la gestion du stress dans la vie professionnelle. Alors bonjour Hellen, ça va bien ce midi?

Helen: Très bien, merci. On a le soleil, donc tout va bien.

Isabelle: Bien quand le soleil est là, on est heureuse. Merci beaucoup pour ton temps parce que tu vois moi, j'ai les cheveux roses aujourd'hui à like going pink hors the way. Mais ce n'est pas tout le monde qui est qui a confiance en soi qui se sent à l'aise de se montrer d'être vraiment soi même et surtout dans des situations d'anglais de français. Ce n'est pas facile.

And so talking about French, English, we're gonna switch to English so that all our subscribers can understand all of your precious tips you'll be sharing with us today. I was just saying that not everybody is bold and daring in stressful situations, it's not easy to stay calm and relaxed as opposed to us coming from the more performing world where we're used to dealing with stress, or as a teacher we're used to being in front of an audience.

But most people are quite stressed in a networking exam situation and so today we're going to discuss how can we manage our nerves. Before or during an important event or an important exam, such as the fide test.

So your tips can be applied in our everyday life, in our networking life, let's say in social events, in French, or in your mother tongue.

So enough with my talking, Hellen, could you please explain briefly how you became a confidence coach?

Helen: Thank you very much. So as you explained, I was always involved in the theater from a very young age. My whole family sang, did music, were on stage and I believe that everyone is nervous and it's a normal reaction in the body to a new or scary situation, and I realized that not everyone pushes through any way. That some people just say, Oh, I'm nervous, therefore I stop.

Whereas I had learned, I didn't really question it, that I would just go on the stage, even though I had the butterflies in the stomach and the heart pounding. So, yeah, about five, a bit longer than five, six years ago, I was working in NGOs. So the non-governmental nonprofit space with health professionals who came from all over the world to present their incredible, groundbreaking research. And many of them really, really struggled to get up on the stage and share that with everyone.

And I just thought that was such a pity. And I came from a very privileged. background of having done this since I was very young and had a natural affinity to do it. So I said, I need to help other people to make sure they can get their messages across. And a huge part of that is really learning to manage their nerves.

Isabelle: Absolutely. And I'm so glad you are here to talk about this with us today. It's such a pleasure. Helen, It's a fact that many successful people who look confident still feel sweaty and stressed from the inside. That's what happens to me. That's what happens to you on a regular basis when we are stressed, but we have tips. So what would be some simple yet highly efficient tricks, like they would use, to be able to fake it till you make it. So not to show that you're stressed.

How should one, what should one do to feel and look confident in front of an examiner or in front of someone in a networking event?

Helen: So I think the first thing to remember is that people can't see what is in your head. So we have lots of negative thoughts or feelings that are going around all the time, but the people you're talking to don't see that and they don't need to see that.

So that's the first thing to realize. And then the second one is, A smile goes a long way. If you put on a smile, actually research has shown if you smile, even if you don't feel happy, the hormones hit your brain and you feel happier afterwards.

So just putting a smile on your face can help. And remember that whoever you're meeting, whatever situation you're in, you're interacting with another human.

So act human. It's okay. Put a smile on your face and be open to the situation. I think that's always great. And something that I will always go on and on and on about is breathing.

Just breathe. It relaxes your system. It helps your vocal production. It really calms everything down. Gives you a moment to pause. And that is really key. Often when we're really stressed, we're about to go into an exam, for example, our heart rate will start going and we'll find ourselves stop, stop speaking, just breathing basically.

So just pausing and some gentle breathe in and out of your nose can really make a huge difference.

Isabelle: It's very simple, very efficient, easily applicable tips, which we tend to forget and are so efficient in stressful situation. Thank you so much, Helen.

Would you be able to share with us some concrete tools which will help us manage our nerves and that we can use immediately? I know you talked about breathing. Would there be something else?

Helen: Yeah, I, I've got two tips that you can use immediately today before you go into the meeting with your boss or a stressful situation. The first one is indeed breathing, but it's more advanced than just an in and out breath. It's called box breathing or four by four breathing. And the idea is that you breathe in for the count of four, You hold your breath in for the count of four, you breathe out to the count of four, and hold the out breath. And this has been shown to lower your heart rate, which just settles your whole nervous system.

So maybe we'll do it once together. Breathe in, 2, 3, 4, hold, 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, and hold. 2, 3, 4. This is also a great one if you're having troubles getting to sleep, especially the outbreath when you're holding that whole body seems, tends to to relax.

That's the first one. The second one is the power pose. So there's research, it's a little bit con controversial, but shows that. The position that we put our body in has a huge impact on how we feel.

So if you sort of scrunch up and close yourself off and feel small, after a couple of minutes, you will feel small and less confident. So what's the reverse of that? Is opening yourself up into what we call a power pose.

So there are many of them. My favorite one is Wonder Woman pose. So, usually stand. You can do it sitting as well. Hands on your hips. Chest open and up. Chin slightly up. And you look onto the horizon. Again, you do some deep breathing. And every time I do this afterwards, I feel like I walk stronger, more confidently, sort of strut.

So that's a great way also to hack your brain to feel more confident, to force it, you know, to make those, get the negative spiral turning the other way into something positive.

Isabelle: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Helen. These are two very manageable, easy tricks that we can do just before going into the exam room. The box breathing, the power pose, this is going to be very helpful.

Thank you so much. How important is our mindset in an exam situation?

Helen: Very, very, very important. And I think research has shown in recent years, just what an impact it can have. I, a couple of years ago, I read a really good book that I would recommend called Soundtracks by Jon Acuff. And he talks about the soundtrack in our brain, the repetitive thoughts that we're telling ourselves over and over and over, and that can have a huge impact on how we're feeling and how we think about the world.

So what I usually recommend to people in an exam situation, or when you're doing a presentation, is to start thinking about, what are those soundtracks? Maybe they are, I'll Never Pass, I'm Not Good Enough, I Can't Speak French, whatever it is. And stop them, go, Oh, that's interesting. Stop it. And then say, what can I say to improve that? Sometimes it's really hard to break the cycle, but one super easy way of changing a soundtrack is to add yet at the end.

Okay, so I can't speak French...yet. Okay, so there's a possibility for the future. But also going a step further and rewiring those soundtracks. Putting other thoughts into your head. I am learning to be a French speaker. I will do a good job. I have prepared really well. All of those sort of more positive thoughts, just train yourself.

Sometimes it can feel a little bit awkward. You can write them down and maybe put them somewhere in a notebook or something, read them to yourself, even if it's in your head to start retraining those soundtracks to something more positive.

Isabelle: So having a positive mindset, having some good positive affirmations on our mind, feeling positive about the success of the exam is really very important before, and it's so funny that you're mentioning it because in our e-course that we've built called the Preparation for the fide e-course, we've got a meditation, uh, for before the exam, a few days before the exam, full of positive affirmations about the fact that you are ready, you can speak French, you have everything that you need in order to pass the exam, and this really helps. But of course, we have to believe in it, in ourself as well, that's very important.

Helen, when things get hard, we come across, let's say, a topic or a word or an expression we don't understand or we've never heard before. Many of us will start feeling panicked, discouraged, or even stupid. And whether it's our mother tongue or not, in an exam situation or a networking event, we mentioned someone we don't know, and then we feel stupid. It could be not just for a French exam, but any situation.

What can we do if we start having such negative feelings before or during our exam? You talked about the mantra, you talk about the positive affirmations. Is there anything else we can do?

Helen: Yeah, absolutely. I think the most important thing that you need to remember is it's normal. It's a normal reaction in your body to a different situation. And it served us very well evolutionarily, so that it's normal. And don't say, Oh no, I'm nervous. Therefore everything's, you know, gone to pot, everything falls apart. Say, Oh, I feel nervous. That means. It's important, right?

There's also research that shows that the bodily reactions to nerves, so the heart racing, the butterflies, the sweating the blushing is very similar to that of excitement. So maybe you can tell yourself, Oh, those are nerves. No, it's excitement. I'm so excited. I'm ready. This is, this matters. I'm alive. I'm going to do a great job. So that all of that sort of thing, reframing things can help a lot.

And honestly, I, people don't believe it, but I still get nervous every single time I jump on a call, every time I get on the stage and I've just retrained myself to realize that it's not something to get rid of, but it's something you can turn into positive energy. So recognize that it's there. And then, as I said before, some calm breathing can help. The whole point is to make yourself feel safe.

So the fight or flight response that is activated with these nerves it needs to be calmed down. So you're in a more logical, calm, state rather than I'm going to run away from the tiger or I have to fight. Right? So that's why breathing can help.

Another great thing is to ground yourself. So it's meditation. Sometimes you do this, but a really simple way, for example, in front of an examiner where you can't, you know, do your power pose and your breathing is to feel grounded.

So maybe just touch the table. Feel what it feels like under your fingers. Feel your feet in your shoes. How does that feel? Just breathe calmly. And this all calms your body to realize that it's not a life or death situation, that you are safe, and nothing disastrous is going to happen. Even if you don't know the answers to the question or you come across an expression, it's not the end of the world. So that's what you need to tell your body through. So the grounding and reframing.

Isabelle: This is very helpful, Helen. Thank you so much.

There's something I would like to add as well. When you do an exam, especially for the fide exam, the examiner doesn't want you to fail. They want to make sure you have everything you need in order to pass the exam. So they are here if you need the examiner to repeat the question, to speak more slowly, to change the wording, that is possible. So if you don't ask, you don't receive. So this is always possible also to make sure to use your examiner, let's say, as a, kind of as a guide. They're not there to make you fail.

Helen: I love that. I love that. You know, we're all, we're all human and they want you to do a good job. They're, they're seeing where you are, not whether you're good or bad. They're just seeing where you are. In terms of your language ability. So use them, ask, remember the phrase of, of asking, can you please repeat that? Or I am not sure I understood. Could you speak more slowly? So all of these things are really key phrases to learn when you're learning a language, which are very useful.

Isabelle: And same thing if you're in a networking situation, Oh, I don't know this person. Who is that? You know, not being afraid to ask questions. That's something which prevents us from, you know, really connecting with the person in front of us.

Helen: Yeah. And people like to be helpful. So if you're going to help them by asking a question, they can give you something, they will feel good as well. So I think that's another way of connecting actually with people.

Isabelle: Yeah, absolutely. Helen, that was really precious. That was very helpful for me and also for the subscribers, I'm sure.

Can you please summarize the three things that we can do to quickly reduce the impacts of stress during an exam?

Helen: Sure. So first, remember it's normal. These reactions in your body are evolutionary and they serve a purpose, but you can also see them as something positive and turn it into positive energy.

Then you need to calm your system. So that's through breathing and grounding to say that you're not in a life or death situation.

And then you can also change your soundtrack, the way that you're thinking about the world, your exam, a stressful situation is really paramount. And this usually does start before the actual day of the exam, but even at the day of the exam, make sure that you're telling yourself positive, giving yourself positive energy, positive messages so that you can, if you need to, fake it until you make it with a big smile, and, and lots of energy and I'm sure you will do well.

Isabelle: Thank you so much, Helen. Merci beaucoup, Helen. I love the word soundtrack. I had never heard it before. I've heard different expressions to talk about the mental affirmations we have for ourselves and I love, it brings me to thinking about music, and this is something that I do a lot. I love to put a music, to set the tone with music. So that's something you can also do. Listen to your favorite empowering music or very happy, positive, or calm music before you do the exam. So you're in that mindset and you move, you dance, you have fun, or you just rest and stay then. That's another way of doing things. And I know you love that. And I know you love that from working with you.

We, I attended your workshop. It was a month ago, I think, or two months ago.

Helen: Two months ago, yeah.
Isabelle: Exactly. And the music was very important to boost the confidence.

So can you tell us more a little bit about, especially for the subscribers who enjoyed your tips, and I certainly did, we would love to know more about you and perhaps if we want to work with you in the future, what can we do?

Helen: Yeah, sure. So the best way is to get on my newsletter. So if you go to my website, which I'm sure we'll link below, Right, Isabella?

Isabelle: Yes, we will.


You can register for the newsletter there. And I send some tips and some stories every 12 days or so. And otherwise if you want more of what I've shared with you today, there are a couple of different resources.

One is a warmup routine in a PDF, so it goes through breathing, calming your mind, also warming up your voice, right, to get ready to articulate all the oohs and oohs and the French sounds that we need.

All of that can be, it could be useful as well.

Otherwise, there's also a masterclass that I have online, which is free, which goes through some tips, very simple videos that I send you each day over 4 days I think. And so that might be of interest as well and otherwise, book a call with me. Let's have a discussion. See what your challenges are. Nerves are different for everyone. So it's worth diving a little bit and understanding them a little bit more. So that you can help resolve them or manage them specifically

Isabelle: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Helen. I know that you are working with English speaking professionals, but also with French speakers. Is that correct?

Helen: Oui, bien sûr.

Isabelle: Absolument. Donc, your services, your confidence coachings can apply for both Francophones and in the international community. You also work online and face to face, is that correct?

Helen: Absolutely. I've got some coaching clients who we see in person if they're in the Suisse Romande area. Otherwise, I've got clients all over the world who we connect with online through Zoom.

Isabelle: Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time. Merci beaucoup, Helen.

These were really precious tips. It was really a pleasure to have you on the podcast today. And so I will let you say goodbye to our subscribers in your very own Kiwi way. Is there a special way to say goodbye?

Helen: Yeah.

Haere rā. So the indigenous people of New Zealand, Aotearoa New Zealand, say haere rā for goodbye.

Isabelle: Bye. Learning new things every day. Haere rā, Helen. Bonne journée. À bientôt.

Helen: Au revoir.

Isabelle: Au revoir.

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