Tour Divide, an "ultra-cycling challenge to pedal solo and self-supported the length of Great Divide Mountain Bike Route...as fast as possible."
Only a few people attempt it and fewer finish (in 2008, the year this documentary was filmed, 16 started and 8 finished). One competitor who had a particularly hard time was Mary Metcalf-Collier, who suffered physical hardships along the way, including severe swelling in her legs.
She came close to quitting many times, but she knew the key to staying in the race was her "mental game," and she continued to push herself past her discomfort, eventually becoming the first woman to complete the race.
She says in her blog, "The most important lesson that I picked up last year was about flexibility. As I read back through my journals from 2008, I probably had 3 days total that went exactly as planned."
Most of us aren't facing this level of physical pain when preparing for a presentation. But many speakers' mental game is not up to the challenge of overcoming anxiety and the resulting resistance and avoidance.
The mental game of speaking includes:
1. Planning and preparation for things that might go wrong
What happens if your computer crashes in the middle of your PowerPoint? What happens if you lose your place? What happens if someone gives you a hard time during Q&A? Are you prepared?
2. Reframing anxiety and nervousness into positive attitude and energy
There is no difference between "bad" and "good" adrenaline - it's your mind that makes it so. Thought stopping, positive self-talk, relaxation and other mental and physical tools can get you in a calmer state to face your audience.
3. Visualizing a successful presentation
Have you visited the venue in advance so you know the layout of the room and any challenges? Have you envisioned yourself in front of a satisfied and smiling audience, giving waves of applause? Successful elite athletes use visualization and mental rehearsal both to imagine a successful outcome of an event and to rest and relax.
4. Giving 100% when you only feel 50%
Got the flu, but can't find a replacement? Performing on two hours of sleep? Distracted by personal problems? Your audience can't and shouldn't know this. Give them what they came for and rest later.
5. Handling mishaps onstage in the moment with grace and humor
Everyone makes mistakes and most of the time your audience doesn't even know you've messed up. Suck it up, laugh it off, and move on!
6. Being flexible
Sometimes you're prepared to speak for an hour, but the speaker or meeting before you goes long and your time gets cut. Sometimes you expect an audience of fifty and it ends up being an audience of five. Sometimes you get stuck with a microphone that's attached to a lectern. Having a strong mental game means being able to shift gears at a moment's notice, take what you're given, and run with it.
As you can see, the mental game of speaking parallels the mental game of sports, and speakers can learn a lot from athletes who use these tools. Read more posts about the connection between athletes and speakers here.
What else would you add to my list? Please share in the comments!