When you think about speaking or performing in front of an audience, how do you feel?
Many people get nervous, feel their heart beat a little faster, or get the tell-tale stomach-dropping feeling that we all know so well. Some may feel relatively comfortable.
It can be just as nerve-wrecking to perform in high-pressure everyday situations, like asking out that special someone, or cooking a big holiday meal for the family for the first time. Either way, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable you feel with performing under pressure, odds are that you’ve “choked” at least once.
“Choking” under pressure, or essentially messing up your performance, is all too common, and is always an extremely heartbreaking feeling. The fear of choking leads many to avoid performing under pressure entirely.
However, the dreaded choke can be avoided. Whether you’re giving a presentation at a business meeting, playing a sport at a big game, or asking your crush on a big date, you can perform well under pressure by following a few simple tips.
7 Ways to Perform Well Under Pressure
1. Practice, practice, practice…
It’s much easier to perform well if you know the material like the back of your hand. This “material” could be the line you’ll use to ask that cute guy or gal out, or it could be the big presentation you’ll be giving at work next week. Practice over and over again, as often as you can.
Even if you don’t need to memorize it, get it in your head; the more comfortable you are with your material, the more natural performing it will feel. Try performing in front of your friends and your family—it’s what they’re there for!
Related: 7 Benefits of Positive Thinking
2. …but change up the way you practice
If you keep practicing the same way, you won’t be prepared for change-ups. This might not apply for some presentations, like if you’re playing a musical piece, but if you’re giving a presentation, try practicing delivering the slides in different orders. This way, if someone in the audience asks you a question, you don’t have to get flustered and say “I’ll go over that later”—you can just skip to that slide with no worries.
3. Think of back-up plans beforehand
What if the computer won’t take the flash drive with your presentation on it? Or what if you accidentally burn the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner? I’m not asking you to be paranoid here, but think of all the “what-if” situations, and solutions for if the problem arises.
E-mail the presentation to yourself just in case, or have a backup casserole ready, for solutions to these examples. This way, if something goes wrong, you don’t have to sweat it—and you’ll be less likely to choke.
4. Make stress your friend
Stressing out over your performance? Don’t stress over your stress. In a recent TED talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal shed new light on the concept of stress by analyzing a study done by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As Dr. McGonigal pointed out, the results of the study suggested that people do not die from stress, but rather the belief that stress is bad for them.
She then analyzed another study which found that those who thought of their stress in a positive way received all of the physical benefits of stress (motivation, energy, etc.) without the negative ones. Make stress your friend, and you may find more energy to practice and perform.
5. Don’t think too much
Find yourself going over your performance in your mind as you’re performing? Block these thoughts out. According to one study published in the British Journal of Psychology, you’re more likely to choke under pressure if you have skill in the area of your performance (i.e. putting a golf ball, as the study tested) simply because you’re more likely to think so hard about the process of carrying the action out that you disrupt the actual performance.
Related: 11 Ways to Be Mentally Tough
6. Stop taking yourself so seriously
Say you follow all these tips, and you still flub during your performance. What should you do? Laugh at yourself! The audience—whether that audience is your coworkers, your family, or that special someone—knows you’re human, and making mistakes is understandable. But if you turn red and get flustered, not only will you be more liable to choke more, you will make the audience feel uncomfortable.
Laughter is the much-preferred response, and if you’re laughing too, they’ll be laughing with you, not at you.
7. Be confident
Your mind is a powerful thing. If you convince yourself you’ll choke, odds are that you will. Be confident in performing under pressure, and remind yourself on a daily basis that you are perfectly capable. Get your self-talk right and your performance will follow.
Related: The Power of Positive Thinking
Choking under pressure can be a devastating feeling, but don’t let the fear of the choke keep you from performing your very best. By practicing (but changing up the way you practice), thinking of the what-ifs, making stress your friend, not thinking so much, laughing at yourself, and being confident, you will blow your audience away…no choking involved!
Photo by kevin dooley