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Christian Barra
Christian Barra

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How to deal with self-limiting thought before a talk

A couple of days ago a friend wrote me a message:

Can you check my presentation?
I gave it today and I think it went really bad.

I checked his slides and they were good, same for his notes, so the problem was somewhere else.

So I asked: How did you feel during your talk?

I was really tense

Well, that can be somehow normal.

What were you thinking during your talk?

I am doing it wrong

This slide is wrong

Ouch, self-limiting thought.

Climbing and public speaking

I find many similarities between climbing and public speaking.

The only difference between a climber who climbs 5.15 and one who climbs 5.5 is the magnitude of the doubt and the skills developed to deal with it.1

  • Arno Ilgner

Which is probably what separates giving a talk you want to forget about from giving a great talk.

Doubts and self-limiting thought are everywhere and as soon as you face discomfort (jumping on the stage) they are gonna reach your mind at light speed.

So how do you deal with it?

How do you deal with self-limiting thought and with your mind hectically wandering around?

Well I usually do 3 things.

1. Take some time before the talk just for you

I always try to have 5 mins just for me before a talk, you don't have to meditate in a zazen posture, I sit somewhere comfortably and just relax.

I want to enter an inner state of relaxed concentration, where I am focused on the message you want to deliver and relaxed, with a positive thinking mindset (I am gonna do great).

The last thing that I do is power posing.

Yep, I go to something that I consider a private space (a toilette works well) and I do 30 seconds of power posing.

Breathe, consciously and continuously. Shifting your focus from the intruding thoughts to your breathing makes a bridge back to the body, to the flow of action and movement. Keep moving.

  • Arno Ilgner

2. Focus and remember to breathe

I always try to keep the attention in the moment and remember to breathe.

It's so easy to hold your breath and forget about breathing but it's rather... crucial.

The inhale/exhal process is a great way to focus your attention on your body and control your stress level during your talk.

And as you breathe you take pauses which help giving the right rhythm to your talk.

Don’t react to the doubts. Rather, stay in the pose with the stress and delay reacting.

  • Arno Ilgner

3. Delay

If a self-limit thought comes to my mind I try to don't react, don't fight with it, just ackownledge the thought and let it go.

The internal dialogue should go like this:

  • "I am aware my mind thinks this slide sucks... but I am gonna deal with this thought later."

And you? how do you deal with self-limiting thought before a talk?

Useful resources

  1. 5.5 and 5.15 are part of the climbing grading system, 5.5 is beginner, 5.15 is super elite. ↩

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