Keeping your cool: 7 ideas you can’t afford to ignore

Man getting into his fours

Man getting into his fours © Murat Giray Kaya

We’ve all had to deliver a major presentation to an important client, or from the podium to a crowd, which wrecked havoc on our nerves.

In this post, we’ll go over a few ideas to help you wing it.

To begin with, would you crawl on your four to ask for acceptance? Of course, not. Then, doesn’t it strike you as odd that somewhere in your mind you have been willing to do so?

How you view uncertainty has the biggest bearing on this behavior.
Uncertainty reflects the unyielding fact that everything around us is changing.

You’re worrying too much because you probably expect to stumble while delivering your presentation —either you expect your voice to falter, or that you’ll be asked a question for which you’re not prepared…

To help you keep your cool or your calm under pressure, let’s go over the following reality checks to get a healthy perspective on uncertainty:

  1. We’re all going to die anyway.
  2. If you’re overwhelmed by negative feelings about the uncertainty of your future, you might as well stockpile an atomic bomb nuclear shelter in the basement of your house, and never leave home.

    Or, you might face reality, and say “what the f…, we’re all screwed anyhow.” In not so many eloquent words, Heidegger also stated that in order to feel free, we must reconcile ourselves with the inevitability of death (Steve Jobs felt the same way).

    Or, like shitmydadsays “Nervous? In 5 billion years the sun will burn out and nothing you did will matter. Feel better?”

  3. Life is an adventure.
  4. Or, as Forrest Gump’s mom used to say: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

    If you view your life as an adventure, where the fun comes from overcoming obstacles, you’ll enjoy the challenges of conquering any white river rafting presentation.

    Think of the adrenaline rush as your body readying you for action. You know it’s important. So, your body needs to be in top shape to deliver well.

  5. Learning and practice help.
  6. My dear wife teaches the Lamaze method. In essence, by having mothers (or you) practice and learn more about their future delivery, they gain the necessary confidence in themselves —and lose their fears— to perform much better during their delivery.

    I also thoroughly study the subject, and visit many potential detours from the main delivery idea. Then, I prepare a short list containing the main pointers.

    Along the way, I’ve also learned a few (bodily) tips, which I’m sure you can put to good use:

    • Speak loud enough so the guy in the last row can hear you. An assertive voice commands authority, and you’re sure to erase the question mark grin off the guy sitting furthest.
    • Scan your audience, stopping along the way, to talk to them one by one. Ask questions or take polls. If you engage them, you will connect and they will pay more attention to you.
    • Move around. People get bored if you stay frozen on a podium.
    • Show a confident body posture. Do what’s cool for the occasion. Never a boring cover sells books.
    • Don’t rush it. A slow delivery reflects confidence, and maybe a few in your audience will be fortunate enough to be able to understand what you’re saying.
    • Slow and deep breathing silences can also help you keep your calm (and arrest a panic attack).
  7. Show your joy in living.
  8. In previous posts (about happiness, success and enthusiasm) we learned the benefits of starting our chores in a happier frame of mind, —which may well boost performance by up to 50%. So, try to start the day by having a good time.

    Enjoy an ice cream, or a chocolate bar… Listen to your favorite Ipod music. Take a stroll. Shop for nice clothes to wear to your presentation. Find some new jokes. It can’t be that difficult.

    Finally, remember to bring to your presentation a cherished memory of a happy moment, to evoke when you feel insecure. I have a happy memory which works wonders whenever I serve in tennis.

  9. Meditate each morning 10 minutes.
  10. Meditation, as we’ve seen before, is an excellent exercise proven to improve the control of your emotions. Take 10 minutes every morning to concentrate on your breathing. Remember, it’s like a deep dive, be kind to yourself, your thoughts are the ever present little waves on the surface of the sea.

  11. Your vulnerability is welcome.
  12. People know you’re not perfect. As a matter of fact, they prefer people to robots. Have a laugh at your mistakes. Errors allow us to find new creative inroads. They also make us human. Showing that you’re vulnerable is a sure way to bring others closer to you.

    It’s sad to see how feeling ashamed, where you attempt to hide a weakness, ends with the exact opposite effect, distancing yourself from the people you’re trying to be close to. Showing vulnerability brings us all closer to each other.

  13. Prepare a Tick-Tack list.
  14. I learned this great simple method from Michael Michalko. Prepare a list with two columns with headers Tick and Tack. Under the Tick header you jot down all the negatives that you envision may occur during your presentation. Then, under the Tack header you try to find and write down the reasons why the Ticks do not make sense.

    Downloading your worries to a list to mull over them is a great exercise. Realizing that these Ticks are not solid issues will generate a contradiction, which will dissolve your previous negative thoughts. This way, you gain the confidence you need to face your audience.

I’ve always liked this quote from Mark Twain because it opens many other doors:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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