Let me set the scenario for you. You are about to walk into a pressure situation. You may be speaking to one person, or maybe six people, or maybe six hundred. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is this; there is a lot riding on your performance. So what do you do? You do what just about everyone does: You get fired up for it!
For some, that means walking up and down a private corridor talking to him or herself like a boxer getting ready to enter a ring. “You are amazing! You can do this! You are the greatest of all times!”
For others, that means some jumping around. There’s nothing like burning some of that nervous energy by hopping up and down like you’re on a pogo stick. Some people like to take a number of exaggerated deep breaths, or shake their arms in an effort to loosen up.
Like something out of a movie, you are getting fired up and getting yourself ready! After all, you don’t want to be flat. You want to make absolutely sure you bring your “A” game. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve all seen too many of these movies. To me, it’s a classic example of instinct versus logic. I get it; when there’s a lot riding on performance, our instinct is to guard against complacency by intensifying our mental preparation. But is getting all fired up really the most effective way to insure we get the most out of our performance?
Perhaps you would be interested to know that my worst performances have occurred when I have doubted myself and tried to unnaturally fire myself up. What do you think separates a professional actor from an amateur? The professional can convince you that he or she is not actually performing. The number of people in the room, or the pressure of the situation, has zero effect on their performance. The performance is natural, and the delivery is authentic – regardless of what that actor really feels inside.
When I have gone overboard firing myself up, it interfered with my performance. Instinct may convince you that getting fired up will increase your chances of success, but logic reminds us that this really isn’t true. The more fired up you are, the more difficult it is for the audience to see a relaxed, natural, you. You are correct that you want to be free from anxiety, but you also want to be genuine, and down to earth. When I have failed, it was because the act of being fired up interfered with my ability to flip the switch and demonstrate normalcy. Let me remind you of the opening scenario…
“You are about to walk into a pressure situation. You may be speaking to one person, or maybe six people, or maybe six hundred. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is this; there is a lot riding on your performance.”
When you are under pressure, most people know it. Believe it or not, that makes them nervous. The goal for any performance is normalcy. How would jumping up and down, talking to yourself, hyperventilating, or shaking out your arms and legs, prepare you for normalcy? This would only make your heart race more, and work against you as you try to be calm.
Under pressure, success or failure comes down to this: you need to convince your audience that you are not performing. Don’t cut any corners when it comes to preparation, and it’s more than okay to be excited. But forget all the things you see in the movie, and rather than fire yourself up, calm yourself down. If you’re calm, you will calm those around you, and you will win the day!