In anticipation of the US Vice-Presidential debate tonight, Nick Morgan, the author of Give Your Speech, Change the World wrote a great post today for Harvard Business Publishing. He suggests several excellent points to consider when you make your next high-stakes presentation.
One of his comments is this: It’s also important to engage in positive self-talk. If that sounds too ‘new age’, get over it. You will be engaging in negative self-talk, also known as worrying. It will seep into your unconscious and give your body language a fine patina of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. You must combat that unconscious self-betrayal by telling yourself, constantly, I’m going to be fine; I know the material well; I’m excited to have this chance; and so on.
Without mental conditioning, it’s hard to present yourself at your best. I agree. I even talk about this in the first chapter of my book, How to Say It To Sell It! But what happens when you make a presentation and not just lay an egg – you suck so bad that you’re embarrassed to keep talking (but do anyway), and then have to present again? How do you pick yourself up after the fall?
I wish I could tell you that that never happened to me and that I’ve only watched others mess up royally. I’ve watched plenty. But once, thankfully just once, about 15 years ago, I was so bad, so awful, that I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone as I left the stage. (This wasn’t that big a deal really because no one was making eye contact with me either.) We all wanted me to exit the room as quickly as possible.
What did I do? I cried and cried and cried. On the way to the airport. On the airplane. At home. At night. During the day. I cried.
But then I had another presentation to work on. And so I cried some more. My self-confidence was shot and it wasn’t coming back. I was finished as a speaker and sales trainer.
Until I remembered my friend and NSA colleague, Al Walker. A giant of a man, he, too, admitted to having that awful experience. He said we can blame a million things but what really matters is that we move on. What was his secret? On his drive back to the airport, he stopped his rental car, got out and literally took his hands and brushed off his body from head to toe. He physically wiped away the experience from his psyche as he wiped his hands clean. Done. He was over it, the experience was done, and he moved on.
Before preparing for that next presentation, I tried it. I wiped myself clean of the experience. And I stopped crying. It was over.
Without letting go of what hurts us, we can’t ever bring our best selves forward. Of course, there has to be a best self ….