Your presentation, audition, or job interview starts at 10am, but a few minutes before, you start to feel like the clock’s a few ticks away from High Noon. It’s a good thing you used extra deodorant because you’re feeling the heat.
If you’re one of those people who think that they always rise to the occasion, you’re wrong! 25 years of research from around the globe indicates that the overwhelming majority of individuals perform below their capabilities in a highly pressure scenario. This is categorized as a situation in which they have something at stake and the outcome is dependent on their performance.
Specifically, experiencing pressure downgrades your ability to access cognitive success tools: memory, attention, comprehension, judgment and decision making. Pressure also diminishes your psychomotor skills; these skills include your golf swing, or the ability to walk up to the podium —stumble, trip, crash!
You don’t have to crumble under pressure; you just have to immunize yourself to its injurious effects. Here are some “pressure solutions” that will help you to be cool, calm, and collected so you can do your best when it matters most:
Write off the pressure
Preparing yourself to give your best presentation or readying yourself for your Monday morning interview starts Sunday night, or the night before any pressure scenario. Pressure often derails you by filling your mind with distracting and anxiety-arousing thoughts, such as “What if I can’t get a job?” or, “I wonder if these clients like me.”
These thoughts have nothing to do with the facts that you need to present, but they do make you lose focus. This will make it harder for you to recall the facts that you need to have at your fingertips. You only have so much space in your working memory, and worried thoughts take up the space that you need for your presentation information, or facts about your previous jobs. Studies show that you can minimize the likelihood of worrisome thoughts surfacing during your presentation if you write down your anxieties about giving a poor presentation the night before. In effect, you are getting them out of your system.
Adopt a low-pressure mindset
Individuals who don’t crumble under pressure hold a particular mindset that minimizes feelings of pressure and allows them to approach their presentations with confidence– not trepidation.
A presentation is a positive event. Individuals often “choke” because they interpret the presentation or crucial conversation as a threatening event, a perception that increases anxiety and fear. Telling yourself that every presentation is an opportunity, challenge, and a fun change of pace will decrease feelings of pressure and allow you to enjoy the experience and do your best. Build these words into your thinking and use them when you think of a pressure-filled scenario.
A presentation to important clients or an interview for your dream job is very important, but telling yourself that “it’s a chance of a lifetime” will make you think that it’s a “do or die” moment. This will only intensify your feelings of pressure. Instead, remind yourself that this one of many opportunities that will come your way. It’s not a “must game.” Doing so will keep you calm and make it easier for you to focus on doing your best.
Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate
What if your power break glitches?
What if several members of your audience leave abruptly?
What if you’re told your interview is a group interview five minutes before you start?
For most individuals unexpected events cause a pressure surge –a spiked arousal that evokes threatening and defeatist thoughts, causing them to lose their composure, go off-track and miss their mark. It’s like when a golfer can’t recover after an unexpected folly.
Prevent this from happening by anticipating potential mishaps that could surface during your presentation, no matter how slim. Then, mentally rehearse your solutions. Being prepared for anything surges your confidence and that translates into a less pressure-filled presentation.
Clench your left fist
A common factor that prevents individuals from giving presentations are chronic anxiety-arousing thoughts. These thoughts need to be extinguished. Very recent studies show that clenching your left fist a minute before your presentation will do the job for you. This action inhibits the language area in the left hemisphere of your brain that is responsible for these troublesome thoughts and primes the right side of your brain that is responsible for delivering a well-rehearsed skill, such as your presentation. If you are on a golf course, squeeze a ball before each shot and you will find your mind has stopped ruminating about your swing, stance and what your partner thinks of your game. Instead, you’ll just do it! Caveat: you must be right-handed for this to work. Sorry, lefties.
Walk like a champ
Neuroscientists and social psychologists have uncovered plenty of data that indicates how your posture impacts how you feel. Accordingly, experiment with different postures and you’ll note that some make you feel more confident than others. A few minutes before you enter a pressure-filled scenario, walk confidently down the hall or around your office. You’ll feel the difference.
When the time comes to face your audience, use your confidence posture: stand up straight and expand your chest. If sitting, sit up straight –you’ll breathe easier and think more clearly. Confidence will help you to conquer pressure, so it’s smart to remember to walk like a champ.
Affirm your self worth
Step back to realize that your life is not defined by how well you give a presentation, whether you land the job, or how successful you are at work. Individuals who define their self-esteem by how well they do in any given situation allocate themselves a heavy dose of extra pressure, feeling they have to produce results 24/7. Before you go to work, and before every high pressure moment, remind yourself that you are a worthy person independent of your work performance. You’ll feel a reduction in the pressure that you feel and you’ll perform more effectively.
Follow these tips and you’ll find that you’ll be cool, calm, and collected when it matters most. You’ll enjoy your share of successes, and at the same time, take control of pressure-filled situations!