The Walk On

Image from NASA – The old countdown clock at the Kennedy Space Center press site is seen ticking down to a space shuttle launch in 2011.

It’s like a countdown to blast off for me. Five minutes before the presentation my heart beats faster.  Sometimes I’m excited and keen to get going, sometimes I feel quite sick.  Occasionally my mind goes blank.  Personally, I find small sit down meeting presentations harder than the big stage set.

The only thing that reassures me is that the business CEOs we coach, top actors and top scientists often feel the same. This is normal for many of us.

Over the years, I’ve built 7 coping strategies for the initial ‘walk on’ which I’m happy to share. It’s a smorgasbord of ideas from our coaches, neuroscience and positive psychology.  I’d love to learn from what works for you too.  It’s a very individual thing.

Tuning in I need to spend significant time finding out what will be useful to and land with the audience in advance.  Without this, I feel very naked.  I want to have a conversation with the audience and join their ‘in group’.

Water & restMy throat used to go hoarse before presentations.  Drinking more water over the week ahead and getting more hours of sleep has solved the problem.

A strong point of viewI have to really believe in what I’m presenting, even for that half an hour, to do a good job.  I know I have something valuable to say, a very clear point of view and a good way of building an emotional connection with the audience when I’m really looking forward to ‘getting out there’.  So I talk out loud while walking my dog to make sure it feels strong enough and flows right.  And I visualise what it will be like to present well to the group.

My territorygetting into the room early or prowling around the stage before people arrive helps me relax.  I want to welcome the audience into my domain and I don’t want practical hiccups.

Power posingI will disappear to stand and open my arms wide for two minutes in private to get my cortisol levels down.  Amy Cuddy’s research does work in practice.  It also makes me laugh. (Watch Amy’s Ted talk ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are’ here).

BreathingJust off stage or sitting in my seat I will take 5 slow breaths right into the pit of my stomach, breathe out completely, wait a second and repeat.  Then I’ll walk on with purpose.  I’ll take two more of these breaths looking at the audience before I start to speak on stage.

CheatingI deliberately structure the presentation with a video, music or audience interaction early so that I can make a connection and relax myself.  In meetings, I’ll make sure I’ve asked a question or contributed during a previous discussion.

If you or your leadership team would like to become really good presenters who can engage and energise others, please do enquire about our courses. We work one to one and in groups. Contact us to find out more.

Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

How Astronauts Cheer Up

Commander Chris Hadfield is the master at taking the long view and seeing the opportunities in tough situations. (If you need a reminder of who Chris Hadfield is, watch his cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, recorded on board the International Space Station on YouTube).

When he was overlooked for going into space not just once but four times he says:

“This is when attitude really started to matter. I have a clear memory of giving myself a pep talk about then that started with, ‘Don’t be an idiot’. I reminded myself that I wasn’t sitting around doing nothing. I was learning so much every day that I could almost hear my neurons firing.”

He is a master of the ‘flip it’ technique.  He does feel disappointment and does get affected but somehow finds a genuine opportunity or upside quickly.  This allows him to perform better and enjoy the process.

His book is littered with examples of his mind-set in action.  He talks about how he responded when things went wrong on space walks.  And he had the same troubles as many people have with a boss – he worked with a difficult senior astronaut who would dress him down in front of mission control.

Here’s Our Pithy Quote from the Book #3

“I learned a lot from him ….I realised, wow, he’s really effective and a top operator of a complex vehicle.  He had some great skills and some fundamental problems… It helped me stop reacting emotionally to his abuse and start trying to figure out how to make the best of the situation.  The key was to understand that the problems were his, not mine and they all seemed to stem from his insecurity”.

‘Flip it’ is an essential foundation you can acquire on our Positive Leadership. Peak Performance course and apply to your own real life situations.

Chris’ style of personal leadership and his leadership of others is an excellent example of the behaviours and positive practices we’re coaching on our Positive Leadership. Peak Performance Programmes.  Hard evidence shows that using positive leadership practices to lead yourself and others delivers higher sales, more internal engagement and better productivity.  If you would be interested in how it can help you meet your goals, please do get in touch.

Buy Chris Hadfield’s book ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ on Amazon.

‘Back To The Future’ Day – Presentation Horrors!

Image sourced from renatodantasc at Flickr and cropped for use.

Our favourite quote from the Back to The Future Film, 1985 is from Doc: “Your future hasn’t been written yet. Make it a good one!”  You bet.

They predicted hover boards, video phones, flat screen TVs, flying cars (soon!), fingerprint recognition, virtual reality headsets and the release of Jaws 19.  Unbelievable.

Many leaders are stuck in a 1980s way of presenting (minus the huge shoulder pads!) Give yourself a presentation health check to make sure you’ve moved on.

The bottom line is that you need to work a lot harder in 2015 if you want to engage your people and inspire to move them to action.  They do not follow easily.

Here are 3 big changes from the 1980s:

  1. We now expect to see the human, not just an authoritative leader.  Vulnerability is powerful.  The 1980s alpha male approach for men or women is out.  Professionalism is in.  Slick is out.
  2. We now expect a presentation to be a conversation with peers.  We want warm authority and to see your values.  The 1980s command and control presentation style is not going to cut it.
  3. We have the attention span of a gnat and expect to be entertained today.  Don’t bore us with longwinded PowerPoint presentations.  Make sure there is audience interaction and use new media to make your points.  Above all, flex your message, your style and your examples to suit your team.  Your face to face time is precious.

So are you back to the future or stuck in the past?

You can be this good. It is absolutely possible.  On our presentation coaching courses, we blend brain science, positive psychology and advanced communications skills to help leaders make this a reality.  You can work with us one to one or in groups. Contact us to find out more.

Watch a clip of Marty McFly on a hover board here!

Manage Your Presentation Nerves – The Big Checklist

Think of Wimbledon winner Novak Djokovic. One of his key strategies is how he manages his mind so he can perform under pressure.

Now neuroscientists have come up with an evidence based approach to bust our nerves and fears – for presentations and other situations too. We’ve created a system for you in this Big Checklist.

Here are the highlights:

Before an emotion kicks in

  1. Get briefed – certainty calms the brain
  2. Face the fear – understand your personal ‘hot spots’
  3. Use brain training – it helps improve focus
  4. Change your physicality – open confident poses will reduce your cortisol stress levels

After an emotion kicks in

  1. Don’t ignore it – suppressing doesn’t work
  2. Label it – just with one or two words. This dampens down the automatic limbic system
  3. Flip it – find another way of looking at it. Reappraisal is good for heavier emotional loads.

You can be an exceptional communicator.  It’s absolutely possible.  Find out more about our presentations, personal presence and gravitas course here.

Your Logic Blocks Change

It’s like school assembly without the chewing gum. Leaders often talk about change to a sea of blank faces. You have the ‘too cool for school’ body language or people simply look disengaged. Often that’s because they are.

Achieving change is hard, but neuroscience, brain science, gives you some great insights on how to make it easier.

The first insight is that logic won’t work if people are not motivated to listen to your message. So be honest with yourself and decide how to play it. Don’t just keep beating them over the head with logic.

You are better using emotion and themes around team and social connection if the motivation isn’t there. If people are also busy and they think you are not in their ‘in’ group you’ve got even bigger problems if you try logic.

This comes from the Elaboration Likelihood Model developed by leading neuroscientists Petty & Cacioppo.

Equally, if people are very motivated to listen, logic does work. It activates deeper brain processing and change is more likely to be longer lasting.

A ‘watch out’ is that change can be more temporary with the emotions and social route so consider how you are going to embed the change.

What helps? Choose a speaker who is empathic, part of their ‘in group’, has credibility and can speak with confidence and sincerity. If they speak against their own self interest all the better. Try to create good feelings and not overwhelm people with negative feelings. Repetition is key – your most important message needs to come first.

The big one is to inspire your people to believe that change is possible. This opens up the audience to receiving negative information about the status quo.

We coach leaders to be really good communicators. Our secret for success is to show you how to use techniques based on 1) the evidence of neuroscience, 2) positive psychology with 3) theatre skills. We can help you be ‘battle ready’ and take the pressure off. Contact us to find out more.