Nervous? Only practice makes perfect
By Andrew Grant
Although a good presenter can make it look easy, there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to presenting successfully – and the bottom line, whether you like it or not, is going to be practice and experience.
When people ask about getting nervous before a presentation, I reframe my answer so that facing up to a new scenario is a perceived as a positive challenge rather than a threat. Rather than focusing on the nerves, I focus on the energy – I now even enjoy the challenge and look forward to it. This takes a completely different mindset. And it is only possible for it to become a positive experience when you have enough practice and preparation behind you.
Some of the principles I have kept in mind as I have faced the long term preparation required for the big presentation roles have included:
10000 HOURS: Practice the skill relentlessly
Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ indicates that to be truly great at anything one needs to have invested over 10,000 hours of time in that field – an arbitrary figure to some degree, but with an important message behind it. In highlighting the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’, based on a study by Anders Ericsson, Gladwell claims that greatness requires an enormous time investment, using the source of The Beatles' musical talents and Gates' computer savvy as examples:
- The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule.
- Gates met the requirements of the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours over the years developing Without that access, Gladwell states that Gates would still be, "A highly intelligent, driven, charming person and a successful professional," but that he might not now be worth US$50 billion.
- Pink Floyd has also revealed that Dark Side of the Moon, the longest surviving top 10 album of all time, was actually the culmination of thousands of hours of trial and error.
Gladwell explains that reaching the criteria for the 10,000-Hour Rule, which he considers the key to success in any field, is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years.
THE CURVED BALL: Practice facing the challenges and dealing with them – don’t avoid them
In tennis, if I hit a medium paced ball to a beginner they may be very impressed with themselves to be able to return the ball successfully. But that is usually only if I aim it in the perfect position for them to reach and return easily. The ability to return in perfect conditions does not make them a great tennis player. It is the ability to deal with the more challenging shots that sets apart the good guys.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams not only relish the big points but can handle all the difficult shots the other players hit to them – in Baseball it’s called handling the “curved ball”. This can only be done with experience, through learning to read the other player, looking for the micro signs that indicate what the other player is anticipating and where the ball is heading, through developing anticipation, maintaining focus and honing the ability to exercise perfect timing.
You cannot prepare yourself for any new challenge simply by testing yourself out in perfect conditions. You need to face the challenges head on and practice in the toughest circumstances in order to know that you can handle anything competently.
SURVEY THE SCENE: Identify and prepare for specific challenges
Keynote talks, seminars and team building facilitation requires a natural ability to read group dynamics and communicate to meet the needs of a target audience – but how much of this is actually due to practice and hard work? We’ve met many presenters over the years who think they can just get up with their charm, credentials and/or knowledge and wow an audience. Maybe they can when the audience is a “forgiving” audience in the right demographic.
But the real test of a great presenter or facilitator is how they face challenges outside the ordinary. How they handle a sceptic? How do they deal with a poor environment (eg too much background noise, failing technical systems, too many distractions etc) What they do when they’re given the most difficult time slot of the day? What about when dealing with a group of participants that have been forced to be there or think they know it all already? What about handling those who turn up having had a bad experience previously?
Learning to identify and deal with the specific challenges can go a long way to ensuring you are prepared and ready for anything. When the great sports people are focussing on the ‘curved ball’ it’s because they are so familiar (from practice) with the ordinary that they can focus on the extraordinary.
There are no replacements for experience, and no shortcuts to success when it comes to presenting confidently and competently. Are you willing to put in the time and effort involved?
"Packaging and presenting ideas (Part 2): Nervous? Only practice makes perfect" by Andrew Grant ©2010.This article may be republished as long as links are posted back to www.tirian.com and the author(s) acknowledged.
Visit Packaging and presenting ideas: facing the challenge head on Part 1 here >
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