On Thursday, basketball star Stephen Curry will take his fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. And when Curry's Golden State Warriors take the court against the Toronto Raptors, Curry will mentally prepare himself for the championship game--as he has for every other game.
In a video tutorial for Master Class, Curry teaches shooting, ball-handling and scoring. The lessons are aimed at athletes, of course, but one chapter in particular holds valuable lessons for any entrepreneur who wants to perform their best when the pressure is on.
Specifically, Curry offers a useful six-step process for building confidence ahead of a pitch, presentation or public-speaking opportunity:
1. Activate the body and mind.
Before every game, Curry warms up with the same sequence of drills. He alternates dribbling two balls for twenty reps, followed by six crossovers between his legs and behind his back.
Psychologists have found that pre-game rituals are key to preparing for any performance--sports or public-speaking. In a recent Wall Street Journal column, behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely says the best way to start your day is with a fixed ritual: "Rituals...are a way of telling our mind and body that we are moving into a different state."
Develop a pregame or pre-presentation ritual and stick to it. I like to spend about five minutes by myself in a quiet area mentally rehearsing the opening of my keynote presentation--and the conclusion. It gets me in the proper state of mind and builds my confidence.
2. Put in the time.
The secret to Curry's legendary composure in the spotlight, he says, is simple: hard work. "I'm not nervous because I put the time in on the back end to prepare myself to be ready," he says. "I don't just show up expecting to be great. The preparation I put in allows me to meet the storm calm, cool and collected."
The most solid, sure-fire way I've ever found to deal with nerves for a big event is to prepare relentlessly. I've met TED speakers who practiced their 18-minute presentation at least 200 times before the big day.
When they finally took the stage, they were brimming with confidence. After all, they had already nailed their presentation hundreds of times. They were simply going through the motions one more time.
3. Be your own fiercest opponent.
Curry says he avoids becoming complacent by continuously pushing himself to new heights. He treats every workout as an opportunity to perform better than he did the previous time. It's a "huge factor" in his success on the court, Curry says. "I'm my biggest critic. I hold myself to the highest standards."
I recently spent time with an entrepreneur who founded a company that's achieved "unicorn" status--it's worth more than $2 billion. When she was raising money, she was her own toughest pitch critic. She was determined to make every presentation a little better than the last one.
She held herself to the highest standard: her own. And when she got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pitch Silicon Valley's biggest investors, she was more than prepared.
4. Visualize the performance.
Before each game, Curry sits on a bench and closes his eyes. He visualizes himself performing the same moves he'll attempt in the actual game. He wants to know what it'll feel like before the adrenaline starts pumping.
Visualization is the key to preparing for any performance, especially public-speaking. The best way to prepare is to mentally rehearse the entire presentation, including the details.
With your eyes closed, picture what the audience looks like. Feel the temperature in the room. See your slides on a wide-screen projector. The more detailed your visualization, the calmer you'll be when the pressure is on.
5. Control your breathing.
"My favorite thing to do is just to control my breathing," says Curry. During timeouts or breaks in the action, Curry spends 10 seconds taking a few deep breaths.
That's exactly what you should do before a major presentation. I take five slow, deep breaths while I'm being introduced. Then, I put a smile on my face and I'm ready for showtime.
6. Treat every game the same.
Curry remains composed in an NBA Final because he treats every game the same--whether it's a preseason game or the seventh and final game of a championship. He says it prevents him from psyching himself out, like many athletes tend to do in big games.
Even Curry, one of the greatest three-point shooters ever, can't make baskets if he's not mentally prepared to perform his best when the pressure is on. His six-step process will help you master your emotions for any pressure performance.