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How Olympians Can Help You Prepare for Presentations

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

The incredible months, sometimes years of physical prep are done; the body is ready to do anything asked of it. But these Olympic champions have something in common with you as you prepare to deliver an important presentation.

They want to excel, to deliver the performance of a lifetime. Yuzuru Hanyu wanted to do something that has not been done since 1952 – to repeat as a gold medal winner in figure skating. He had badly injured an ankle in November, had only three weeks ago begun to make difficult jumps, had only attempted his dazzling quad jumps two weeks ago. What happened?

Ester Ledecka wanted something even more amazing. Ranked 43rd in World Cup Super-G standings, she wanted to be the first person in history to ever compete in both Olympic snowboarding and skiing. 26th to go down the hill, following all the skiers considered eligible to win this year’s gold medal, Ledecka somehow left reality behind and skied the race of a lifetime. She won by the narrowest measurable time, 1/100 of a second. But she wasn’t supposed to even be competitive. What happened?

Fortunately for us as viewers, the televised coverage revealed one of their most important secrets – even though it looks borderline silly. Television cameras caught these incredible athletes guiding themselves through their routines, eyes shut at times, holding and moving their hands, arms, legs, heads, in position to succeed doing whatever they needed to do. They rehearsed mentally, carefully creating the exact images their bodies would need to re-create when they competed.

Their realistic “preview” of the event, the specific actions and feelings of doing the desired actions, established the image their minds could accept as realistic. With no mental barrier to overcome, their bodies became free to do the nearly impossible things their minds had created.

Fortunately, our tasks as presenters are not anywhere nearly so physically difficult. But as you may know, people fear public speaking only second to dying. And those fears can disable us as we try to overcome them. Even people who do not fear presenting often have great difficulty releasing the inner speaker that can deliver the message and move the audience as desired.

How can we take the practice of mental preparation of the Olympic athlete to help us become the presenter we want to become?

Just like the Olympians, you need to visualize very specifically what are behaviors of a successful performance. You need to believe you have created a structure that works. That you have found the key to reaching your audience. That you know where you are going and how you’ll segue from start to finish.

Your mind needs to believe in what you’re doing, that you can create the picture, the movie of success. And you are the director, the critic, the presenter and the viewer of that movie. Simple mechanical rehearsal is not enough – in fact, it can be harmful to implant images of failure, of poor performance, of low confidence.

We have worked with hundreds of people over many years to learn how to help people become the presenters they are capable of becoming. It is a wonderful combination of skill and art that most people can learn and enjoy. Even people who fear presenting or “know” that they are not good at it can radically improve. And in the process, they learn to enjoy it.

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