Stephen Curry, the 2015 MVP of the National Basketball Association, continued his epic season Thursday night. His team, the Golden State Warriors, won Game 1 of the NBA Finals, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers--led by living legend LeBron James--in the process. 

You know what that means: The time is right to analyze and anatomize the secrets of Curry's success. What habits does he have that easily translate from the world of basketball to the world of business?

As it happens, one of Curry's most helpful habits is his 20-minute pregame ritual. Bay Area News Group columnist Tim Kawakami has documented its details in a fantastic three-minute video. And what's especially fascinating--for a business audience--is how so much of Curry's routine dovetails with great advice about preparing for big presentations.

Arrive Early and Adjust to Surroundings

For example, the first step of Curry's routine involves dribbling two basketballs at once, one with each hand. He'll dribble them between his legs and behind his back. The idea is simply to get the feel of both hands on the leather ball, and to simulate controlling the ball under a variety of circumstances. 

This first step is analogous to one of the most revered pieces of presentation wisdom: arrive early and adjust to your surroundings. "Make sure to spend some in the room where you will be delivering your presentation," notes WordStream founder Larry Kim in his list of presentation tips. 

"If possible, practice with the microphone and lighting, make sure you understand the seating, and be aware of any distractions potentially posed by the venue (e.g., a noisy road outside)."

Practice With Purpose and Use Positive Visualizations

Another part of Curry's routine is--as basic as it sounds--taking a lot of shots: About 105 or 110 of them, he tells Kawakami. He'll practice a wide array of shots: Scoop shots and runners with his right hand and left hand; three-pointers of the catch-and-shoot variety, moving to his right and left; and three pointers of the stop-and-pop variety, also preceded by various movements right and left.

"It's all the shots we see him [taking] in the game," observes Kawakami. "He repeats and repeats and repeats, over and over again." Curry has said that one aim of his shooting practice is visualization: It helps him "just to see the ball going in the net." 

Here, too, you can find comparisons to the tenets that presentation experts emphasize: To practice your presentation as you'd do it in real life, and to use positive visualization as a means to find inner calm and confidence.

"Many presenters don't practice properly. They simply mentally rehearse or flip through a slide deck--all passive approaches that don't really simulate the conditions of a presentation," observes Matt Abrahams, a Stanford lecturer and expert on public speaking. "To practice effectively, you also need to stand and deliver, even if you are presenting virtually."

The visualization is no small part of the simulation. If you practice it like it counts, you're more likely to remember what works best. "You remember more because your mental imagery and physical practice use overlapping neural networks in your brain, improving what's known as memory consolidation, or the process by which a thought becomes cemented in your long-term memory," writes Abrahams. 

Smile and Be Social Before Your Talk

On top of the individual basketball drills in Curry's pregame routine--in which he is dribbling or shooting--there is a large social element to his preparation. He engages in one-on-one sessions with Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser. "Fraser leans on him, pushes him, pushes him, Curry bends away from him." That'ss how Kawakami describes it. In the video, you can see Fraser joking and gesturing with Curry. 

About one hour before game time, Curry finishes his routine. He signs autographs for fans who are in the arena and takes what have become known as "tunnel" shots: Shots from the hallway tunnel connecting the locker rooms to the court.

These shots are roughly 50 feet away from the basket. Watching Curry attempt (and often make) them has become a treat for Warriors employees and fans who arrive early. The tunnel shots became the coda to Curry's pregame routine about two years ago, when Curtis Jones, a longtime security guard at the arena, simply said to Curry, "I bet you can't make that shot right there." The challenge was on. From that point, it became what Curry calls "an ongoing ritual." He has said: "I don't always make it, but it's usually a good sign when I do." 

These relaxing social interactions are also important when preparing for presentations. They give you a chance to smile. And smiling, as you surely feel and know, "increases endorphins, replacing anxiety with calm and making you feel good about your presentation," notes WordStream's Larry Kim.

Moreover, Peter Handal, CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, says socializing before a talk is one of the best things you can do. He explained to Inc.com's Geoffrey James that "great presenters always direct their words to individuals, moving from person to person." The only way to get to know some members of your audience as individuals is by speaking to them. "Therefore, it's always a good idea to arrive before the presentation to meet and greet audience members, ask questions, and learn who they are."

Published on: Jun 5, 2015