Does your brain get tangled when it counts? Here’s 5 tips to help

We all know that feeling before we have to do something important. As a facilitator, I have faced it a couple of times myself in the last couple of weeks as I have embarked on some new projects and also had to deliver face to face when 99% of my business normally runs virtually. I experienced the little voice in my head telling me I’m going to mess it up and everyone is going to think I’m incompetent. That clammy handed, nauseating feeling that everyone will laugh, or that you’ll be “caught out”. Your brain gets tangled and your tongue swells up. It’s part of human psychology but here are FIVE quick tips you can take to prevent it from taking over”

What’s Your Purpose for being there? Refocus on why you’re there in that moment and what value you have been asked to bring. If you’re giving a presentation, your purpose is to share key information in the best way possible so people can understand better. If you are having a meeting about making people redundant, remember your purpose is to tell the person in the most empathetic way possible that their role is no longer needed in the company and that it’s not a personal decision, but also to play your part in the continued financial viability of the company you work for. If you focus on the purpose it helps you to stop daydreaming or catastrophizing about the outcome.

Before I do a big meeting or presentation, I walk through it — several times — in my head to layout the order and flow things will occur. I jot notes and sketch out the key models I might need to share or unpack. Then the night before I do a full run sheet and then let my subconscious go to work in assimilating it (I know this works for me). I have clients who recite the opening lines of their meeting or say the answers to interview questions out loud in the car. What’s a better use of your time, thinking about how everything is going to be terrible, or 30–45 minutes of focussed practice? When you have an upcoming event, don’t sit and imagine all of the things that could go wrong. Spend time taking three deep breaths and actually doing the key elements where you need to perform. Like sprinters practice their starts hundreds of times, do the same for whatever makes you nervous so you become better at it.

Keep in mind that your audience are not hungry zombies waiting to attack you. In fact, they probably want or need to hear what you have to say — even if it isn’t good news. Yes, there will always be the grumpy person here and there, but not every audience is out to get you. Also, the faces people make when they are listening don’t always reflect how they are feeling. I have been in presentations where I had someone scowling at me and shaking his head the whole way through, and I really didn’t think I had engaged him. In the end, he came up, shook my hand, and told me I’d helped him shift his perspective on so many preconceptions he had, and he was taken aback at how many times he found himself shaking his head at the things he’d done. Had I let his facial expression consume me and lost perspective, I would have been very off my game. So as you are looking out at the sea of faces, make good choices. Fix your gaze on the smiling faces who are nodding their heads in agreement rather than the ones that are shaking their heads or scowling at you.

This is a lesson I learned in my early days of public speaking. Only you know how it should go. All the other party knows is what they hear and see. If you make a mistake, as long as you don’t jump up and have your facial expression or gestures say “I messed up!” then the audience will not even notice. Obviously, if this mistake could cause a business disruption (for example you say profits are up $1bn, not $1m) then you need to correct it. From experience, however, I have found that audiences are far more accepting of mistakes — if they even notice. You can either keep going and pretend it never happened so it doesn’t dull your flow or calmly backtrack and invite the other people there to “Let’s try that again,” or say, “Oh, let’s all pretend that didn’t happen, OK?” Then keep going, and people will roll along with you.

When we do an event-in-review in our minds, we freeze-frame on what we wish we’d done better or differently, and completely overlook the overall impression we’ve made based on all those (forgettable to us) moments that worked out just fine. Not every moment is a standalone spot-check of our self-worth. Lower the stakes, not the standards. We aren’t judged by single snapshots; we all have those moments that are less than flattering, but we are more than that. Our lives contain the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the same happens in most meetings and presentations. Did you achieve your purpose? If you did, enjoy that feeling. If you didn’t focus on looping back to fill in any gaps with a follow-up note or offering more information where required.

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Jimmy Burroughes

Showing leaders and teams how to change their conversations to change their business performance results. jimmyburroughes.com