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Discover the art, science, and alchemy of public speaking and communication

Your secret weapon: Power up!

Your secret weapon: Power up!

Photo credit: Multnomah County Library via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND


Bet you thought I’d be going over the presidential inauguration speeches, eh? Not today! I’ll do a post about it later, as there was some interesting stuff going on. I was live tweeting during the inauguration, though – click here to see my in-the-moment thoughts regarding the rhetoric. Check my tweets from January 20th.


Communication can be hard, draining work. Brainstorming with your team, leading a meeting, preparing a speech, or even just trying to pay attention during a lecture or webinar – these are all tasks that have a heavy cognitive load. They make our brains work hard and can tucker us out pretty quickly.

I think that knowing a meeting or presentation or webinar is going to tax our brains and leave us feeling drained is one of the reasons so many of us dread these situations. We spend time ruminating on that discomfort, which not only distracts us from any kind of productive work, but only increases feelings of anxiety or irritation.

But what if you could quickly and effectively help move your attention away from the dread or irritation and towards a more positive, productive feeling?

Tweet: What if you could change dread or irritation about a task into more #positive feeling? #productivity http://bit.ly/2jInX0F


Enter the Power-Up!

A Power-Up is a strategy described in Superbetter by Jane McGonical, which I’m currently reading. (Alert – I’m really digging this book, so watch for a book review and giveaway contest in February!). Power-ups are quick little things you can do that give you a hit of happy or shot of energy. They can be used to help you tackle a difficult or undesirable task, snap you out of negative self-chatter, or give you a mental or physical boost when you start to feel tired, unfocused, or discouraged.

I’ve been recommending these to my speaking clients, students, and audiences for years. though I never started calling them ‘Power-ups’ until encountering McGonigal’s term in for them in Superbetter. The key to a good power-ups is that they are fast, easy, and can be done almost anywhere. When it comes to speaking and communication, it’s useful to have a few you like that can be done before and during the talk, meeting, etc. Here are some of my personal favorites (and yes, I really do these):


Before I give a talk:

  • Groove to my theme song (currently “Inner Ninja” by Classified)
  • Quickly rip off 10 push-ups, ideally right before I go on stage
  • Shadow box/dance
  • Whisper my opening lines with full facial engagement and expression

During talks or difficult meetings

  • Take a diaphragmatic breath, focusing on pulling the air deep into my lungs (helps me quickly refocus or calm down)
  • Break into a huge smile – when appropriate – and hold it for a few seconds
  • Stretch open my hands and fingers as wide as I can, either behind my back or under the table
  • Look directly at one person in the audience or at the table and as them a light hearted question
  • Make an off-the-cuff joke

All of these power-ups help give me a big hit of energy, re-focus my attention, turn negative thoughts or feelings into ones that are neutral or even positive, help me manage nervousness, and reduce tension.

Power-ups are highly individual, and it’s important to brainstorm some and give them a try to see if they work for you. As you can see, I like very physical power-ups. Others like things such as looking at a picture of a cute animal or their kids, or calling their best friend for a couple words of encouragement before going on stage, or taking a few breaths in downwards-facing-dog. Experiment with some, and then when you feel yourself dreading or ruminating about an upcoming meeting or presentation, or procrastinating about working on your talk, try one or two out and see if they help you out a bit.

So here’s my question for you:

What’s your Power-up? What’s one small thing you can do to help move your attention away from the negative feelings you get about a communication-related event and instead help you focus on something positive – something that makes you feel good or optimistic or confident?

Think of that thing and tweet it out to me @lsergy, or click here to post it on my Facebook page. Let’s get a pool of power-ups going and help each other get the boosts we need!

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