I bloody LOVE the Olympics... caught the bug in Beijing and made it my life goal to attend every Summer games (which was going swimmingly until this 2021).
And I think that there are several parallels that can be drawn between athletes preparing to compete at an event and leaders preparing to deliver an important presentation:
For starters, the preparation time is disproportionately long compared to the amount of time you spend actually doing the thing. Add to that an expectation to perform to an impeccably high standard; an expectation that comes not only from you, but from the people around you. Then, to top it all off - you've only got one opportunity to make it count.
It's no wonder that our fight or flight response kicks in.
The question is, what can you do to work with it rather than against it?
I'd like to equip you with perhaps the most counter-intuitive strategy I've come across. A strategy that I know many Olympians and Paralympians use in the lead up to to the games.
Ready? Then read on...
I saw a brilliant LinkedIn post from former Team GB Swimmer, Chris Cook, earlier this month talking about his experiences of competition anxiety. Below it was his rather reassuring quote:
'Nobody is coming to save you - you have to learn to save yourself...'
One of the questions I often ask in my workshops is what is the thing that worries you the most about delivering a presentation?
Answers come flooding back through the chat...
What if I my mind goes blank?
What if the microphone/presentation/zoom call plays up?
What if I get asked a question that I don't know the answer to?
All very understandable concerns...
Concerns that, if we're being completely honest, we spend our time actively avoiding in the lead up to delivering a presentation because we are trying to embody a positive mental attitude!
Now, before I continue, I think it's important to mention that the answers above are just touching the surface of what could go wrong during a presentation. So in this new-found the spirit of negativity, let me throw in a few more scenarios that you could find yourself in...
1. No-one laughs at the joke you were using as your 'icebreaker'?
2. The person presenting before you receives a standing ovation?
3. You drop all your cue cards in front of everyone?
4. What if someone heckles you half way through saying they disagree?
5. The person introducing you reveals your presentation's 'aha moment?'
But what if it does happen...
Cue Chris Cook's 'no-one's going to save you' echoing in your ears!
The mistake most people make is to stick their heads in the sand like an ostrich (side note: has anyone ever seen one do this?!), when your time would be far better spent facing up to the situation and working out how you are going to handle yourself if it does.
What's more, when you have come up with a plan, it is one less thing to worry about, one more circumstance that you can handle, and that extra confidence is sure to radiate when it's time for you to take the mic.