No, I ain't much of a poet but I know somebody once told me
To seize the moment and don't squander it
'Cause you never know when it all could be over tomorrow.
Eminem, “The Monster”
How you communicate can make or break your career and can make a huge difference in every area of your life.
If you look back over your life, you’ll identify a few key moments that mattered most to your success – a pivotal job interview, a critical presentation, a major sale or even the first meeting with your life partner.
How we communicate in these high-stakes moments can be turning points in our lives. There are also day-to-day and weekly communications that in total can have just as much if not more impact on our success.
And all of these moments can produce huge stress – physical, emotional and mental.
Working with clients in Chicago last week, we talked about how that stress feels: we have that deep anxiety, pounding heart, sweaty palms, thoughts racing.
Research tells us that we also produce hormones that harm our bodies, including high levels of cortisol released by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight response.
Despite this importance, many leaders and other high achievers make their presentations or crucial conversations the last thing on their agenda.
They may actually increase their stress by throwing together slides, missing breakfast and rushing to the meeting to make a key presentation.
The result is predictable: They feel super stressed before and during the presentation and they come off as unconfident and nervous. The results are also predictable: They don't get the promotion, don't make the sale or don’t get their project approved.
Be a presentation athlete
This is why I recommend to my clients a different mindset: Think of yourself as a Presentation Athlete.
Consider your presentations and other communications as being athletic events – the moment when you must perform at your highest level. You must be peaking in your energy and focus.
With this in mind, let me offer these tips on showing up to be your best when it matters most. Taking these steps will reduce your stress and build your confidence.
First and most important is to take the time to plan your communications and be prepared. Know what you are trying to achieve with your presentation and organize your messages to meet that objective.
Rehearse your presentation
Rehearsal is the key to feeling confident in the moment. When you practice your presentation, your mind begins to feel you’ve been here before and are simply repeating the same process. I wrote about this more extensively in Please, Rehearse Your Presentation.
Get some sleep
It’s hard to perform at your best when you’re exhausted. Yet, most of us get to that point and it has become an epidemic, especially among high-performing adults.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “insufficient sleep is a public health problem” and recent polls suggest Americans are getting 40 percent less than the recommended sleep. If you can’t always get enough sleep, try to at least plan to get more sleep before your major moments.
Sweat it out
Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the effects of stress hormones. Again, if you can’t exercise regularly, try to do some physical activity before your presentation to release some of your stress and level off your hormones.
Anxiety has a way of reducing our appetite. You should fight that feeling and get some solid food in your stomach.
One of the most important factors in feeling right is your blood-sugar level; many people will drink coffee and go without food before a presentation. While the caffeine may help to wake you up, the lack of food will drop your blood sugar and make you crash way too early. While you’re eating, make sure you stay hydrated as well.
Breathing and more
Proper breath can be a superpower in controlling your anxiety. The morning of your presentation, try sitting quietly while you focus on your breathing. Take five or ten minutes to calm yourself and visualize showing up as your best, strongest self when you reach that moment.
These are some of the techniques I recommend to my clients and that I use myself before my keynote speeches and training sessions. They work.
The point is this: You are preparing for a critical event, just like a major athletic event, so you should be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally.
That’s how you can make the most of the moments that matter.