Simple preparation rituals can power presentation energy

How do you psyche yourself up to your best achievement levels?

by Peter Watts

If you’re Rafael Nadal, about to win your sixth French Open tennis tournament, then the process looks a little like this:

  1. Push hair behind left ear
  2. Push hair behind right ear
  3. Knock heel of left shoe with tennis racket
  4. Knock heel of right show with tennis racket
  5. Scuff three steps sideways to the left along the back-court line
  6. Scuff three steps sideways to the right along the back-court line
  7. SERVE!

Athletes and sports-teams all have their own unique pre-performance rituals that they repeat before that first all important move onto the field.

For some, like the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team, those rituals are dramatically overt, designed to both psyche the athlete and to intimidate the competition. For others, like Nadal, they are simply habitual actions that have become mentally linked to success.

Presenting is a performance sport. You too are on the field before an audience; You too have adrenalin flowing as if entering the Olympics; You too can benefit from pre-performance rituals.

Rituals connect you to a feeling of success. I know many presenters who have mantras that they quietly repeat to themselves, or use specific breathing techniques to get into the zone. I myself have the habit of quietly placing together my thumb, index finger, and middle finger in an accupressure position for a few quiet seconds before I present. Over years of repetition I now associate this simple hand movement with entering my calm-zone ahead of speaking. Nobody can see me do it, and the ritual’s associative power puts me exactly where I need to be before I go onstage.

Avoid rituals that rely on external objects such as the famous “lucky tie”. Think for example of the stories we hear about leading singers who couldn’t perform because there weren’t exactly five pink carnations to the left of their dressing room mirror, or someone forgot to remove the blue M&M’s from the candy bowl. These rituals fail because they rely on external objects or other people.

The guidelines for effective pre-presentation rituals are simple:

  • based on affirmations, minute gestures, breathing techniques, or visualizations that you can always summon when needed.
  • can be performed quietly and immediately without the outside world being aware of them
  • quick and simple, taking no longer than 3 – 5 seconds
  • effective in bringing you to the required performance state for the task at hand

If you don’t already have a pre-performance ritual of your own, try experimenting. The best time to adopt one is immediately after a successful presentation. In that moment when you are experiencing the endorphin rush of success, try to anchor that wonderful sensation with your own conscious ritual. Repeat the process at a later time, and you’ll feel the echo of the endorphins once again powering through your system and powering you out onto the stage.

I think, therefore I am: Part of “Presentation Nerves”

Cogito Ergo sum

by Peter Watts

The philosopher Rene Descartes said “I think, therefore I am”. For presenters, this line of wisdom is extended to:

“I am what I think”

Start a presentation thinking “I’m confident and I’m prepared”, and your session unfolds in accordance with that thought. Nerves diminish, and you move easily from point to point. Go into a presentation thinking “I don’t want to do this and I can’t remember what I’m meant to be talking about”, and you’ll find that this too will come to pass!

What we tell ourselves is our reality before a presentation, all too easily becomes our reality during the presentation.

This is the same world as that inhabited by professional athletes. What words go through the mind of an athlete as they line-up at the start of a race?Words that focus on victory, or words that focus on defeat?

If an athlete focussed on the message “I’m going to come out of these blocks, surge forward ten steps, and then trip over my own feet and go flat on my face” this self-destructive mantra would become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Professional sports people visualise success and maintain a continuous inner-dialogue that supports that vision. As presenters we have that same inner dialogue.

What is yours telling you about presenting? Is it positive or negative? Passionate or pessimistic?

Be aware of what your inner voice is telling you. Challenge negatives and praise positives. If the voice predicts doom, then challenge back with success. If the voice says “You’re going to fail”, then say back “I’m going to succeed!”

Remember pro-athletes and what works for them. The same sports psychology techniques also work for us!

“I think therefore I am”

I am therefore, what I think

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

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