Whether you're a seasoned leader or just starting your career, you will inevitably face a high-stakes moment that thrusts you into the spotlight. An investor pitch. A nail-biting client presentation. Maybe even a keynote at a major industry event.Taking the main stage can be exhilarating, but it can also produce a paralyzing mix of dread, uncertainty and self-doubt.
And while there is research that suggests pre-performance jitters may be a good thing, most people would rather find ways around the pressure. From my experiences as a TEDx and keynote speaker, I've found the following three techniques to not only settle my nerves, but give me an edge. Each one is backed by research and incredibly easy to adopt.
Have a good chat with yourself.
Strange as it sounds, there's good reason to talk to yourself before your next big performance, especially in the second-person. Telling yourself, "You can do this!" is more effective than saying "I can do this!" Self-talk centers us in the present moment and helps us regain focus on the task at hand. This allows us to talk our way around distraction and screen out the stimuli that weaken our concentration -- a must before grabbing the limelight.
Not only that, but self-talk also creates the conditions for better decision-making and helps rescue us from doing things we may later regret.
Name the monster.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins pointed out the "scary squiggly things" that hold us back from achieving our personal best. As humans, we're wired to run from perceived threats, but it turns out that heading them off is a much better approach -- especially if we "name the monster" that is causing us fear, anxiety or plain old stage jitters.
Researchers at UCLA found that people with spider phobias showed fewer signs of reactivity when they verbalized their emotions. So before your next big moment, unleash your fears ("I am scared of messing up in front of my employees"), then remind yourself of how you've contained it (lots of rehearsal, solid content, good night's sleep). "Naming the monster" won't eliminate the fear, but it will give you a powerful psychological hold over it.
Make it real, even if it isn't.
Brain scans show that people use the same neural architecture whether they are actually moving or just thinking about the movement. Researchers call this "phantom practice," but the effects are quite real: Simply going through the motions has been shown to have the same effect as physical practice -- and can even produce a performance boost.
So before your next big moment, run through a mental sequence of what you're about to say or do. Replaying your performance steps will make you feel like you've already mastered the act by the time you have to do it "again" for real.
Even under bright lights, leaders can take the glare off their fears by staying in the moment, labeling their emotions, and rehearsing the right moves. Those small practices can turn high-stakes moments into high-achieving masterpieces.