In a recent survey of several hundred people who speak in front of groups, I asked them to list their biggest challenges when giving presentations. The top answer was being too self conscious, anxious or freezing up. This was a concern even for advanced presenters.
When the stakes are high and the pressure is on, even top Olympic athletes feel challenged to be their best. That’s why they do something called “Mental Rehearsal”. It’s where a sprinter will run through the entire race start to finish in their mind over and over again before the competition. Golfers, basketball players, concert pianists and top sales people do this all the time. You can do this, too.
Think of an upcoming presentation
So think of an upcoming presentation you have–one where the stakes are high to be your best. Mental rehearsal allows you to enter a level of greater confidence, because it’s a form of simulation. And as a result when you actually are presenting face-to-face you tend to perform better, you make wiser decisions, you are more at ease and more articulate.
How the unconscious stores bad programs
You unconscious is full of good and useful programs such as being able to ride a bike. This is an efficiency of the mind. If your unconscious didn’t do that then you’d have to relearn riding a bike each time. The downside is that the unconscious mind also stores programs that are not good or useful. For example, maybe you were in a play as a child and you messed up your lines and so stored a program that said something like, “Public speaking is stressful”. You made that decision before you had the ability to discern what’s a good program and what isn’t. You probably forgot you made a decision like that and yet it could be affecting your success as an adult. We make plenty of decisions that end up becoming default programs. That’s why despite a conscious goal to be different, our behavior keeps matching the unconscious programming.
Reprogramming your unconscious about your performance expectations
If you have a program that says “Public speaking is stressful” you will expect that behaviour from yourself. You will actually be unconsciously supporting that world view by perhaps procrastinating about preparing, staying up late the night before, not drinking enough water, forgetting your notes, etc. Mental rehearsal is like reprogramming your unconscious and creating a new choice path that might say “Public speaking is enjoyable”. Over time it can become the new habit of mind and the old choice grows over and disappears. Then your expectations of the experience and thus your behavior will be much more supportive of good performance.
How to mentally rehearse
Sit with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, close your eyes and relax. Then run through the entire presentation before, during and after in your mind’s eye. Use all your 5 senses – the sights, sounds, feelings, and even smells and tastes. Imagine everything going how you want it to go–you at your best. You just need to spend 5 minutes doing this each day leading up to your presentation. If a negative image comes to mind just imagine hitting the “delete” key in your mind, then go back to the positive images you want to imprint. Your actual presentation may not go exactly like you imagined but it will be much closer to the mark than if you didn’t do the rehearsal.