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Under Pressure? 6 Ways to Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected

Under Pressure? 6 Ways to Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected

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:

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

More by this author

The DNA of Success: 4 Attributes We All Need Live In A Pressure Cooker? Then Turn Down The Heat. The Art Of Taking Criticism: Get Curious? Helping Your Kids Handle Pressure Under Pressure? 6 Ways to Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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