April 17, 2007

Psych yourself up . . . or out



On Sunday, I spent the day at the Mt. Sac Relays, a track and field event that has become the first stop of the season for many elite athletes as well as high school, collegiate and masters athletes.

It was a huge thrill to see Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff compete, and Olympian silver medalist in the 200 meters Allyson Felix handily win the 400 (what?). Several national records were set, including new Chinese and Asian women's pole vault records set by Shu Ying Gao with a vault of 14' 11". I also witnessed a new Mexican pole vault record of 19' 1" - set by Giovanni Lanaro - the first time a Mexican has vaulted over 19 feet in competition. An absolutely amazing day!

I was there to meet an old friend - an Internet friend I've known for ten years but never met in person! She is a former NCAA heptathlete from Canada who has turned her athletic experience and a Ph.D. in kinesiology into a career as a sport performance coach specializing in speed and power work. She has worked with athletes from all over the world, including Olympic figure skaters and athletes from a wide range of disciplines.

She was at Mt. Sac to support her Olympic-hopeful Canadian high jumper in his first competition of the season.

There were some obstacles on Sunday for the high jumpers. The weather was cold and windy, not much of a benefit for anyone on the track that day. The high jump pit was set too close to the edge of the field, meaning that jumpers had to start on the track and navigate the small curb and incline separating the track from the field, as well as other athletes warming up and the occasional relay race.

In addition, the Canadian jumper had been rear-ended the day before and had a bruised knee from the accident.

According to my friend the sport coach, these obstacles are what kept her jumper from competing at his best - mentally. The obstacles got the best of him.

However, the Mexican jumper Gerardo Martinez, facing the exact same obstacles (except perhaps the bruised knee), went on to set a new Mexican national record, jumping 7' 6 1/2". When interviewed for the Orange County Register, he said, "I was able to relax." I could see him psyching himself up for every jump, getting the crowd involved and believing he could do it. Even at the end of the day when he had jumped so many times already and was clearly physically exhausted.

What does this mean for speakers?


We all face obstacles when presenting. We're not feeling our best, we're distracted by family problems, we don't like the speaking venue, the sound equipment isn't working, we were rear-ended the day before. . .

The main difference between a speaker and an athlete is that the athlete is performing for her/himself, while the speaker is performing for the audience. We both have goals to achieve, whether it's to run our personal best time, or win a gold medal, or to create that perfect relationship with an audience that educates, informs, entertains, sells books and brings new clients!

We are both required to do our best no matter what the circumstances. We are both expected to perform at our peak - the show must go on.

If we, as speakers, are not mentally prepared, focused and relaxed, we will not achieve our goal - and we will not get a second chance. An athlete always has the next meet to improve his time or distance. A speaker will not get a second chance to make a difference with the same audience.

Apply tools that athletes use to focus and prepare for a competition (see posts here and here: practice, visualization, relaxation, rituals (watch the free throws in a basketball game to witness some interesting sport rituals).

Concentrate on bringing your best performance to every audience you speak to - no matter how you feel or what's going on in your life.

Do you have preparation rituals? Tell me about them!

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1 comments. Please add yours! :

Bro said...

I always give the entire speech out loud whether reading from the transcript or from memorization so that I can hear myself say what I'm going to say later. I never go in cold presenting it for the first time before the audience.

Hearing myself give the presentation enables me to tweak my cadence, volume, emotion and listen for obvious problems only caught in the audible presentation. It also helps me to see where I might ad lib by offering myself the option of ad libbing while practicing, thus bringing some of that ad lib into the presentation.

Go and do likewise... : )

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