Dr. Ganz Ferrance is a registered psychologist, professional speaker, published author, and coach. His practice is dedicated to helping patients who are experiencing anxiety in relationships, work, or family improve their lives using the positive psychology framework.
We spoke with Dr. Ferrance to gain a better understanding of how sports psychology can be used by anyone, athlete or not, to gain public speaking confidence.
Picture this: you’re walking up to your door. You pull out your keys, find the key that fits the front door lock, stick the key into the lock, and open the door. You’ve done this same scenario hundreds, if not thousands, of times, so it’s safe to say you’ve got it down.
Now picture this: you’re walking up to your door. But this time, you really have to go to the bathroom, or a neighbor’s dog starts to chase you, or you hear your phone ringing and you just know it’s that important call you’ve been waiting for all day. You pull out your keys, but you drop them. You pick them up, ready to put them into the door, only to realize you’ve got the wrong key. They’re upside down; you’re in a hurry. It’s taking you a lot longer to do this very simple thing, this exact same act you’ve done a thousand times before.
Have you lost the skills it takes to open your front door? Chances are probably not. It’s much more likely that all of the additional things happening around you – your need to use the restroom, the dog that’s chasing you, the ringing of your phone – are altering your physical, emotional, and mental state. And that altered state is preventing you from being able to do this task as you normally would.
When it comes to giving presentations, most of us already have the basic skills needed. We have the expertise, or at least a background, on the subject matter. We know how to create visuals and powerpoints to share information clearly. Most of us can even recite standard presenting rules: make eye contact, speak at a normal pace, avoid jargon.
But many of us also walk into a presentation with an overwhelming fear of making a mistake, saying the wrong thing, or being judged. And though these anxieties don’t take away the skills we already have, they can prevent us from utilizing them to our fullest abilities.
“One of the problems we have is that we’re in our own heads. We judge ourselves instead of staying focused on what we’re doing. We’re in this other place in our heads as opposed to staying focused on the moment,” says Dr. Ferrance.
Sports psychology helps to maintain a healthy state at a mental, physical, and emotional level, so all of the training and practice that a person has already done can be fully utilized and not be encumbered by stress. Though originally developed for athletes, any person can benefit from the techniques used in sports psychology.
“Performance is performance is performance. Performing can be shooting baskets, kicking a ball, or running. And that type of performance is the same as the type of performance you do when you’re giving a presentation, or talking to your boss about a new idea, or when you’re having a discussion with your spouse about how to make your lives better. Whatever the performance is, it is enhanced whenever we are in the right physical, mental, and emotional state,” says Dr. Ferrance.
Here are a few easy ways to incorporate the benefits of sports psychology into your next presentation.
Before The Presentation
Think of shooting a free throw in basketball. In this crucial part of a game, it’s important to be prepared. If you wait until the moment when you have to shoot one, your chances of making it aren’t too good.
Just as in any sport, preparation is key to giving a strong presentation. Very few of us are able to show up the morning of a speech without having done any groundwork and knock it out of the park. But to really excel in front of an audience, preparation should go beyond running through slides and practicing in front of the mirror.
Your training should also include self-care. Before a big presentation, interview, or any other important life event, it’s crucial to make sure you’re:
- Getting enough sleep
- Getting regular exercise
- Eating regularly, at least once every three hours to make sure you’re keeping enough nutrition in your body
- Taking a break or even…gasp…a vacation when you need it
- Putting your phone away for a few hours
As basic as these recommendations might sound, Dr. Ferrance says they are often some of the most forgotten.
“Anything that puts you in a calmer state is going to give you more capacity to handle stress when it shows up. When you feel comfortable and calm in the regular part of your life, you have a much better chance of staying calm when you’re in front of people you need to give a presentation to,” says Dr. Ferrance. “Typically, people in our culture don’t sleep enough or we live on coffee, cigarettes, and fast food. So our bodies, before we show up for a presentation, are already in a state of stress because we haven’t been treating them very well. And so it doesn’t take much to get us to overreact. We fall apart, and then, of course, we judge ourselves when we fall apart. And that just makes it worse for next time.”
During The Presentation
Regardless of the amount of preparation you put in, it’s normal to still experience some level of nervousness the day of the presentation. When this happens, one of the best things to do is to shift focus onto earlier successes. And these successes don’t have to be limited to just prior presentations. Think of any challenge you’ve taken on before – a marathon, getting the raise you asked for, getting a promotion- and focus on how you overcame that challenge to succeed.
Giving yourself the time, space, and permission to celebrate those wins, no matter how small they were, will help to put you in a better mental and psychological state before you begin to speak. This is a time to remind yourself that you’ve already proven that you have the skills and knowledge it takes to do well.
Next, shift your mind to become present in the moment and reframe how you’re viewing this experience. Though the actual presentation is technically no longer a rehearsal, chances are this isn’t the last presentation you’ll ever give. So think of it as simply practice for the next one. Today’s presentation is just practice for the one you’ll give next week, next month, or next year.
When something is just practice, we don’t need to have everything built up on that one singular moment. We know we’ll get another opportunity, another chance. You’re practicing for something else, perhaps something better, down the line. This helps you to relax and be better able to accept whatever happens as you begin to speak.
After The Presentation
The time right after a presentation is just as crucial as before and during. Though you may have the urge to put the speech as far behind you as quickly as you possibly can, don’t miss this opportunity to reflect and learn from your experience.
Chances are your presentation didn’t go off without a single hitch. And it can be really easy to think about what could have gone better or where you screwed up. But that’s not helpful to you whatsoever. Acknowledge where you can make improvements, but don’t beat yourself up over them. Remember: you’ll have another chance.
Instead, emphasize what did go well. Celebrate the fact that you gave the presentation a shot in the first place, even if it didn’t go perfectly. Knowing how common the fear of public speaking is, that alone is an accomplishment.
Dr. Ferrance recommends using this time to kickstart your preparation for the next presentation or big moment: “Remember that celebration is fuel for future success. When you beat yourself up, you’re creating more tension and stress that will continue to build up before the next presentation. But when you celebrate yourself and what you did, you’re giving yourself fuel and energy to do better next time. So celebrate every little thing that went well that you can think of and use that as inertia to go forward and continue growing.”
Visit here to learn more about Dr. Ferrance and to hear more about the positive psychology framework.