Have you ever had one of those, if anything can go wrong days, it will? Recently, I did. I was slated to do a major presentation for a new client. Actually, it was the second of two presentations. Since the first one went well, I thought the second one would be even better, since I had a clearer idea of what the client wanted to achieve. As is my practice, I made sure to arrive early — just because it’s always nice to feel calm and collected, have time to set up and so on.
Since I had been to this client’s offices before, I knew it wasn’t a long walk from my car. Although I don’t usually wear really high heels, I decided I would; I really wanted to look my best. Having checked all details regarding location, time, etc. of the presentation before I left, I was sure I knew exactly where I was going. But when I arrived at the room assigned to me, I discovered the presentation had been moved. And no one seemed to know the new location.
Had there been a video camera tailing me, it would have looked like a scene from a comical movie. There I was running around — up to the 14th floor, down to the 11th, making multiple phone calls and firing off emails. All the while, time was ticking down to the start of my presentation. Fortunately, I connected with someone who knew the new location. I was so grateful! But, it wasn’t just another room; it was in an entirely different building! Thankfully, this building was only minutes away. As you can imagine, it was rather challenging to maintain a sense of “calm and collectedness” as I jogged over as fast as my heels would allow. Then, to add to my stress, I discovered, once I was there, that my Power Point presentation would not work (for technical reasons beyond my control).
What would you do at this point? Burst into tears; stamp your foot while toweling off your sweaty, anxious face, or just give up? Not any of these, if you want a successful presentation for your new client. You do what I did: take a deep breathe; stop; and think on your feet. And you follow these 3 tips for performing under pressure.
The Language Lab’s top three tips for performing under pressure
1. Be mentally prepared: The fact is, anything can go off plan during a presentation. “Expect the unexpected” should be one of your mantras. The only way to handle curve balls is by being mentally prepared for what you can control. Even though I would have preferred making my presentation with the aid of the Power Point visuals, I had no problem doing it without them. I knew the content, virtually by heart.
2. Improvise: I may not be Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams, or Larry David, masters of improvisation. But having taught in a classroom for years, as well as working as a business presenter, I’ve learned how important it is to go with the flow. Even if you don’t have this type of professional experience, there are plenty of daily life activities on which to draw that will help you think faster on your feet. Imagine, for example, you’re at a dinner party. The total stranger across the table says something to you that catches you by surprise. You take a moment; then respond. You move the conversation forward, in the way you see fit. This is what happens in any pressured circumstance. You advance the situation so that the tension eases or a solution presents itself. One of the keys to improvisation, as CNN’s Real Simple Life Coach, Gail Blanke points out, is to simply always think of adding something new to the conversation.
3. Trust your instincts: So much about thinking on your feet is really trusting your instincts. That first thought that comes to mind is usually your best one. And if isn’t, move onto the next idea. Responding to your gut instinct and speaking up will help avoid that “brain freeze.” And don’t be too hard on yourself if you do come up blank. We’re all overcome with nerves at some point. Divert your mental energy to another person, or to the situation – anything other than thinking about yourself and your tongue-tied moment!
Have you ever experienced a time where you needed to think on your feet under pressure? What did you do that helped? Let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.