Athletic Preparation Helps Prepare for Presentations

This week I get to address a few hundred people at the annual meeting of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Arizona. I’ve been preparing for this talk for a month so I thought I’d let you know how I use what I’ve learned from athletics to prepare for big presentations.

Todd Alles, my high school football coach, used to tell players, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” You can’t afford to wing it when you stand in front of highly successful business owners and salespeople so preparation is key! But how do you prepare?

I start with this question; what would be relevant to this audience? For this group, it’s providing the best possible insurance protection for their clients. Knowing this I chose the following title – The Psychology of Persuasion: How to Ethically Move More Clients to Yes.

When I get an opportunity like this I view it as if I’m getting ready for an athletic competition. When I was in college I competed in powerlifting. For three years after school it was bodybuilding. From there I made a radical change and starting running marathons. My last competitive endeavor was taekwondo. Whether it was a preparing for powerlifting meet, a bodybuilding contest, the Boston Marathon, or black belt test, I always took the long view and put in a tremendous amount of time and energy into preparation.

I usually begin to prepare a month in advance for a big presentation. The basis of what I present is essentially the same – the science of influence – so I only need to tweak the opening and some of the studies I use. Making sure I have the right application and business examples is what makes or breaks the talk.

In addition to those refinements I meticulously review my power point slides. I’m a huge proponent of using big pictures and key words. There are no bullet points, lengthy text, or any sentences on the screen when I give a keynote. I only want visuals and key words that drive home the points I’m sharing. Remember, when you’re presenting you never want visuals or text to overshadow or distract from you or your message.

Back to athletics. I’m still into fitness and my daily regimen is typically this: in the gym shortly after 4 AM, 45 minutes on the weights, then anywhere from 5-8 miles on the treadmill. Throw in some stretching and I’m usually working out for a couple of hours every day.

How does this physical regimen help me? I view my training as getting fit for the day of the presentation. I want to feel I’m at my peak mentally and physically. When I’m getting ready for a presentation, training and watching what I eat both take on more meaning. For me it builds anticipation and excitement. By the day of the presentation I want feel like a horse at the Kentucky Derby in the gate ready to race!

As I train and when I drive I listen to my iPod playlist labeled “Training.” It as songs that get me in the right mindset for training hard and presenting well. When I’m not listening to music in the car I’m giving my presentation to myself out loud.

Something I’ve added to my routine is using my treadmill time to practice my presentations. I set this up by having my iPad on the treadmill with my presentation in front of me in pdf format. As I run I practice by giving my talk out loud. Doing this is great for a handful of reasons:

  1. Repetition – Just like athletes take practice reps, this practice ensures I’ll give the presentation at least 30 times before “game day” when I do it live for my audience.
  2. Control – Running and speaking forces me to control my breathing. When I finally give my presentation it’s a piece of cake doing it without running! If you have any anxiety about public speaking I highly encourage this approach.
  3. Timing – Like a football team doing a two-minute drill I’m able to track my presentation to the minute. This allows me to make sure I do it within the allotted time.
  4. Review – All this practice lets me continually review and refine every aspect of my talk. I continually peel away all the non-essential elements and pair everything down to make it a rich experience for everyone in attendance.
  5. Visualization – Elite athletes know that mental preparation can make the difference between a good and great performance. The same is true with public speaking. As I run and talk I imagine the audience in front of me and practice calling people by name.

One last thing to note – I don’t get nervous, only excited. People who describe nerves are often describing the same feelings as people who are excited. Reframing negative emotions into positive ones makes a big difference. After all, most people want to avoid things that make them nervous but nearly everyone wants to do activities that make them feel excited.

When I stand in front of a group of people I know they have choices. Once choice they’ve made is to be at the venue where I’m speaking. They’re giving me their time which is an investment on their part so I want to make sure it’s an investment that pays dividends for them. I appreciate it when someone compliments me on my speaking ability but what’s music to my ears is hearing, “I tried what you talked about and it worked! I’m enjoying more professional success and personal happiness as a result.” For me, that’s the equivalent of an athletic victory!

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