Choking on the big day

(A Potential Unearthed definition of ‘choking’ – “To lose your bodily functions in moments of severe stress and anxiety; To forget who you are, what you are, where you are and what you are saying.”)

Writing this article brings back a bad memory, a memory I try not to think about too much, a memory that reminds me of the day I choked. I was all set to deliver a presentation to the Board of Directors at my then employers. Presenting to the board wasn’t that daunting normally as it was something I’d done many times in the past. On this occasion however I was admittedly a little more anxious as there was a new CEO sat in the room and, like many others sat around the mahogany table, I wanted to impress the big man. I watched as one by one my colleagues delivered their presentations and before I knew it, it was my turn. Sadly that’s where it went downhill. I couldn’t string a sentence together; I started sweating and fumbled my way through the whole thing. In my head I was telling myself “C’mon Mike, pull yourself together, sort it out” but the more I tried to correct myself, the worse I got. It was as if I was a presenting novice all over again. Any reputation I had was in tatters and who knows what was running through the head of the CEO?!

But why did it happen?

Well, that’s simple – instead of just getting up to deliver the presentation in my normal way and style I allowed my mind to be distracted by all kinds of stuff concerning the new CEO… “I have to perform fantastically well in front of the CEO”; “I’ll blow him away”; What if I don’t blow him away?”; “What if he thinks I’m rubbish?” This negative self-talk vastly interfered with my performance and that’s the reason I choked. I hadn’t become a bad presenter overnight; I simply tried too hard and put too much pressure on myself. Maybe I wanted to impress him too much?

I’m sure we’ve all choked from time to time. Maybe it was at an interview, at a big presentation like me, or on a first date?! You see choking in sport all of the time. A case that sticks out for me was Rory Mcllroy at the 2011 US Masters. Mcllroy crumbled on the last hole after leading for most of the tournament. Had he become a bad golfer in the space of a few hours? No, he simply stopped playing his normal game, a game that had seen him lead by four with a round to go. In that final round, he simply tried too hard, he allowed negative self-talk to take over and in doing so he put too much pressure on himself. (-I have no scientific evidence of this of course, it’s purely my personal opinion.)

So, how can you stop it happening to you?

The steps I take to prevent it are simple – I approach every presentation in the same way. I don’t change just because it’s a room of 150 people as opposed to a room of 50. I don’t change how I research, or prepare, or practice for the big day, nothing changes at all. This works for me and it also works for many of my clients who are fearful of choking on the big day. I also perform a bit of reverse psychology. As I prepare for a presentation, no matter how big or small I tell myself, “It’s just another presentation.” I tell myself to relax and enjoy it, that it’s just an everyday presentation in front of lots of other human beings.

Maybe Rory should have treated the closing stages of the 2011 US Masters with the same mentality? Maybe he should have played as if it was just another game of golf?

Drying up or choking on the big day is one of the biggest fears people have about presenting in public. If you want to know more about how we can help you to overcome your fears why not get in touch with Mike on 07825 301660 or click here now for our full contact details.

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