What does your pre-presentation stress look like?
I’ve been speaking for many years. I’ve spoken to big audience and small, for teeny local associations and big international corporations. And I still get stressed. Somewhere between T-20 hours and the time I arrive at the venue, I morph from my usual energetic, cheerful self into a scatterbrained jerk*. Nothing you say will get through my skull, and even while I’m talking to you what I’m really doing is going over every minute detail of my speech . . . and also whether or not I remembered to put my business cards in my purse.
Your stress might look different. Maybe you go into a doom-and-gloom funk. Maybe you get raw panic and your brain blanks. Maybe you decide at the last minute that you need to change everything about your presentation and go with this new, superior idea instead. Maybe you’re like me and you get snappy and irritable.
It’s ok if you go through this. We’ve all got our version of pre-speech stress. All the same, you can’t let it derail or distract you. When your lizard brain rears up and cries “Danger, Will Robinson!”, you need to be able to first forgive it, then put it firmly in the corner so it can have your tantrum and let you get on with your work.
There are lots of things you can do to set yourself up for more success and less stress in the days or weeks leading up to your presentation. You can practice. You can be diligent in crafting your content. You can even work on improving your mindset.
But when it comes to that special Day-Before freakout, I’ve learned that the best strategies are ones that help me do as little thinking as possible.
Why? Because when I’m in this stress mode, I get stupid.
Actually, make that STOOOPID. And it’s likely that you do, too.
Oh, I can think about my presentation – I can run through my materials from start to finish with emotion and nuance. Actually, that’s where about 90% of my attention is the day before I speak. But when it comes down to making a practical, logical decision of what action to take next, my brain starts spinning. And when I’m trying to pack my bags and get ready various bits and bobs, this is a bad thing indeed.
In times of stress, when our brains are least capable of logical thought, the best thing you can do to reduce that stress is to have a tool at hand that does the thinking for you.
Enter The Checklist.
My Ultimate Day Before a Presentation Checklist is my number one stress busting tool in the 24 hours prior to a presentation.
Over the years, I’ve developed a checklist of everything I need to prepare, pack, check, and do the day before a speech or presentation.
The Checklist is a piece of paper where my calm, rational brain has laid out things I need to do, like pack extra batteries for my remote presenter, know which room I need to at, figure out my commute time and parking arrangements, and so on.
I can’t trust myself to remember every detail when my attention is being constantly pulled back to my presentation, and so I don’t trust myself to remember any of it.
I let The Checklist remember for me. And I go through it, checking off the items, one by one. I check off if I’ve done them, if I haven’t done them. I even have check boxes to identify if an item or task is not applicable, because more than once in my stress-brain state I’ve hauled along additional gack that I didn’t need for that presentation.
This list was built from trial and error. I often add items to The Checklist after belatedly discovering that I really, REALLY needed them at a presentation (this is exactly why ‘spare HDMI cables’ is on my checklist. Who would have thought that a popular conference hotel wouldn’t have HDMI cables with their projectors?). I’ve also eliminated items that never ended up being important enough to warrant hauling around (throat lozenges? Mascara for touch-ups? Never used ‘em, so I’ve stopped bringing them).
The Checklist is my ultimate stress busting tool because it means that I can divert the energy put in to that spinny, scatter-brained stress and refocus my mind to where it matters most – on my presentation and on serving my audience.
Everyone needs their own checklist, and I’m happy to get you help you stress less by giving you mine. Because I want you to do well and want you to enjoy this whole public speaking thing a little bit more.
Enter in your name and email, and you’ll get your checklist straight to your inbox:
I encourage you to adapt this checklist and make it your own. Not every item in it will be applicable for all your presentations. That’s fine. And there might be some other items that aren’t on the checklist that you really like to have with you. A lucky charm. A certain gadget. There’s space at the bottom of this list where you can fill in your own personal must-haves so you never forget them again.
Remember, when we’re stressed out, our brains fly in a million different directions. It’s hard to focus on the things that matter. So don’t fight it – work with it. A checklist is a simple tool, but it can make a huge difference to how prepared you feel in those crucial few hours before showtime.
Did you find The Checklist helpful? Please help a friend or colleague stress less about their presentations by sharing this post with them.
*This state ends abruptly as soon as I arrive at the venue and find the room I’ll be speaking in. Once I’m there, it’s game ON, baby – I’m in my element, and I’m pumped! Feel free to chat to me about anything at this point.