May 27, 2013

Some years ago I interviewed several public speakers.  It wasn’t a big modeling project, just a tiny little one.  I wanted to know what certain speakers who seemed exceptionally “cool, calm, and collected” were doing in their minds and bodies to create that experience.  So I asked.  I asked if I could interview them, and then using a combination of NLP and Neuro-Semantic models, I questioned them until I obtained their strategies for maintaining “presence of mind under pressure.”  After I got three strategies, I then went to the literature on stress and stress management, to the writings of Hans Selye, the stress management expert and person who coined the term eustress, and the literature on Assertiveness which is the Type-C personality in contrast to Type-A and Type-B personalities when it comes to stress.

Then, as with every modeling project that I’ve ever done, I applied the learnings first to myself to see if it works on me.  That’s my litmus test: If I can’t get a pattern, process, or model to work on myself, then there is something lacking or wrong in the model that needs to be corrected or supplemented. The result of all of that?  The pattern that we have in Neuro-Semantics which we call, Presence of Mind Under Pressure pattern.  This is a pattern that we have made one of the staples in Trainer’s Training and for good reason -to be an effective trainer you have to be able to maintain presence of mind under pressure.  If “pressure” arises due to who is there, the numbers of people there, the demanding or challenging questions that arise, the making of a mistake, etc. and you lose your cool, if you go into a stress response, if blood is withdrawn from head and stomach and sent to the larger muscle groups- then you will not be able to effectively remember or present.  You will not be in your optimal “genius” state of flow.

Further, for many people, public speaking is in itself a pressure and one that requires a lot of presence of mind.  So for trainers, presenters, keynote speakers, etc., there will be times when various pressures will arise and it is in those moments that you are put to the test.  Will you or will you not remain “cool, calm, and collected?”  Or will you lose your cool?  In fact, to test this very thing, in our Trainers’ Training (NSTT) we intentionally put participants in stressful contexts to see how they do and what they need to maintain presence of mind under pressure. [If that sounds like fun, then be sure to join us this year for NSTT in Hong Kong.]

Presence of mind under pressure is a powerful state.  It is a state that allows you to relax, to lighten up, and to enjoy an experience even when there are lots of things that could be used to create a state of pressure. And isn’t that the best way to handle the pressures?  And besides what are the “pressures” and how do they arise?  The pressures are mostly the expectations and demands that a situation seems to produce but which are really mental states of mind- frames.  They could be belief frames, identity frames, expectation frames, etc.  So it is you yourself who creates (oraccepts) these internal “pressures” and so you are the one pressurizing yourself with the demands:

  • I must do well.  I must not make a mistake.  I must impress people.
  • I have to succeed and demonstrate my knowledge and skill.
  • I cannot blow it.  I cannot show a fallibility or say, “I don’t know.”

That’s what and how most people approach public speaking.  And that is precisely how experts in staying “cool, calm, and collected” do not think or feel.  They do not put those kinds of pressures on themselves.  In fact, their focus is entirely on the audience, not themselves.  They are un-self-conscious, not thinking about themselves (and so no self-consciousness) and certainly no judgments about themselves and their performance.

And if you can get them aside and get them to talk about what they actually do think about these things, they say things like:

  • I’ll do the best I can, give the best I can and leave it at that (an optimizing attitude).
  • If I make a mistake, or say something wrong or awkwardly, or blow it, I say so, use it as an example, show my vulnerability and move on.
  • No big deal.
  • The training is not about me, it’s about people getting what they came for.

What a very different set of frames!  Trusting themselves through preparation and practice, they also know that they will be their best when they are real, authentic, human, and not putting on airs about being something that they are not.  They are real, they are down-to-earth, and this enables them to be able to improvise in the moment.   So they have another attitude or frame of mind:

  • Whatever happens, I will incorporate into the act and use it for a learning.
  • If adversity or crisis arise, this provides a wonderful opportunity to show how these skills apply in the most challenging of times.
  • I have hopes and wants, but no demands of myself or of the presentation.
  • It’s just a presentation, not an evaluation of myself as a person.
  • The quality of my performance is always determined by my frames and my choices, not by the conditions.

Presence of mind under pressure- interested?  Why not join us for Platform Skills (the first 8 days of Trainers’ Training) and learn the skills of presenting and training as well as several patterns like this one.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.