Part 2: How to Quieten the Mind
Ahead of an Important Presentation

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There are two ways you can deliver a presentation; with your thinking brain or with your doing brain.

If those two concepts mean nothing to you, perhaps it's because you're one of the 12 people that has subscribed in the last fortnight (yep, I know, hockey stick growth right there 🏑). In which case, I highly recommend reading Part One first:

Click here to read Part 1
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For those who are still with me... (or couldn't be bothered with part 1), here's a 5 sentence recap:

When the thinking brain is in control, you are limited to presenting with outer confidence. Outer confidence at best looks like someone that has spent too much time at toastmasters, and it results in every presentation feeling like an exhausting performance-come-memory test. 

When the doing brain is presenting, you are presenting with inner confidence. Inner confidence looks effortless to those who are watching and makes you feel like Neo from the Matrix. The problem is, the thinking brain doesn't trust the doing brain, and it needs to be taught how to hand over presentation responsibilities.

In this blog, I'm going to show you one of the ways that you can do just that.

In order to learn how to quieten the thinking brain, we need to understand exactly how it communicates with the doing brain in the lead up to the presentation. If we were to witness a conversation between the two it might go something like this…

Today you’re going to present in front of some very important and very busy people. Do not waste their time. You’ve got a lot of points to cover in a very short space of time so get straight to the point because otherwise, you’ll risk frustrating them which could lead to some tough questions at the end. The mood in the room feels pretty serious today. You'll need to take that tension into account. Do not forget anything or all this preparation will have been for nothing.'

The thinking brain at best behaves like an over-competitive parent taking their child to play sport. At worst, it behaves like a bully. Then take into account that whilst all of that is going on you’re trying to deliver a presentation that is often both nuanced and complex, oh and the fact that your body and brain is also having to deal with the biochemical imbalances that are caused by your fight or flight response.

⭐️ And to those of you who are having to deal with all of this whilst presenting in a language that isn’t your native tongue, I take my hat off to you all. ⭐️

But I have one more reflection to make and it’s the most important one of all. Every single one of those internal thoughts is inflating expectation.

What is Inflation Expectation?

The experience of having to deliver a high-stakes presentation is very similar to an athlete having to perform at a big event. For starters, the time preparing to perform is disproportionately long compared to the amount of time you spend actually doing the thing. Add to that the fact that there is an expectation to perform at a certain level; an expectation that comes not only from you but from the people watching. 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.

With every presentation comes a degree of expectation. You know that invisible weight you carry around with you when you find out you’ve got to deliver a presentation? That’s expectation. You know how the longer you carry the weight, the heavier it seems to get? That’s expectation inflation. The reality is that while the weight might appear to be heavier than it was when it was first handed to you, nothing has really changed.  The problem is, the thinking brain is hypersensitive to this perceived change of weight and will be sent into a frenzy of over-analysis and over-preparation if not managed correctly.

There are two factors that affect expectation inflation. 

  • External: The expectation that our audience has on us to deliver the presentation 
  • Internal: The expectation we place on ourselves to deliver the presentation (internal). 

When you can learn how to manage both, your thinking brain’s desire to present will soften, leaving space for your doing brain to take charge.

External expectation inflation

There are lots of things that can trigger expectation inflation. It can be something as seemingly insignificant as our own job title, or the job titles of others that can make the expectation feel crippling.

Many presenters fall into the trap of building the audience up in their minds to be far scarier than they really are. In the past, I’ve certainly been guilty of paying too much attention to who is going to be in attendance, how knowledgeable they are about my field and the consequences of what might happen if my presentation doesn't hit the mark.

It can be all-consuming. Our thinking brains can work themselves up into such a state that can trick us into believing that their presentation is the last thing their audience thinks about before they go to bed and the first thing they think about the morning of the big day. It can feel like your presentation is the most important thing in the world.  

It might sound ridiculous when I say it, yet it feels so real when you're in it.

Your audience will not have given your presentation a second thought until you start speaking. They've got far more important things going on in their lives. There’s a good chance that someone you’re presenting to will have tripped themselves up on the way to work or split cereal down their top before breakfast that morning. 

The point is, there is a huge disparity between what we think our audience is probably expecting of us and what they are actually expecting of us. 

Internal expectation inflation

The other thing that doesn’t work in your favour of course is the fact that you no doubt set yourself very high standards. Let me tell you who else set themselves high standards.

Olympians.

And I’ve been lucky enough to work with a couple of champions and medal winners.

The one thing they have in common is that they have learned how to manage the expectation inflation that occurs in order so that they are able to perform at their peak when it matters most. If there is one thing I have learned from their journeys it is that while they train for optimal performance through deliberate practice, when it comes to the event itself they let go of any pressure that doesn’t serve them. 

Let me explain.  

You might expect someone that’s about to step up to run the 100m final in the Olympics to be aiming for a 10/10 performance. But they’re not. Because they know that in order for a 10/10 performance to happen, all sorts of external factors that they have no control over need to happen. They also know that in order for them to perform at their best, they need to be relaxed and loose. So instead, they aim for good enough.

This begs the question, what score out of 10 is good enough?

I’ve asked countless conference goes what the average score of a good enough presentation is in their office and the answer I get back most consistently is a 6/10. One, in particular, I remember asking remarked that to set themselves up for a 7/10, would be to set themselves up for disappointment! 

6/10…

Delivering a 6/10 presentation doesn’t feel so unachievable now, does it? Nor does it send the thinking brain into overdrive, which is great news because that means you are one step closer to being able to hand over the presenting to your doing brain.

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