Monday, August 27, 2012

Be Graceful Under Pressure

By Virgil R. Carter

Being a senior staff executive or chief staff officer in a non-profit organization often means dealing with pressure-packed situations, right?  Sometimes the situations can be anticipated.  Sometimes not!  For example, you are 20 minutes into your on-stage presentation and it’s going great.  Without warning the computer crashes, the screen goes black and you want to fall apart!

What to do?  In an article, in Owner’s Manual published in Inc., author Jeff Haden writes, “Some people do seem naturally confident and poised under pressure. But poise isn't natural. Poise is a skill that some people develop… And that's why the key to maintaining your poise during even the most stressful situations is to gain experience. Not just any experience, though; the right kind of experience, the kind that builds confidence.”

Haden offers these tips for staying cool—no matter what happens:

Practice the basics:  Run through your demo a number of times. Smooth out the kinks. Make sure you know it cold.  Then think about the most likely questions or interruptions. Make sure you're ready to present the demo as a conversation rather than a presentation.

Then rework the basics:  All your initial practice will result in a set of logical steps: 1, 2, 3... To really know your stuff, change it up. Start with step 5. Rehearsing a different order helps reinforce your knowledge of your material and also prepares you for those inevitable moments when the client says, "but what I really want to know is this." 

Practice the "What if?":  Once your presentation is in good shape it's time to prepare for things that could cause you to freeze. What if your software locks up? Figure out what you'll do. What if your client is delayed and you only get 10 minutes instead of 30? Decide how to shorten your presentation so you still hit key points. What if you get questions you aren't able to answer? Go crazy. Think of some outlandish scenarios and decide how you'll handle them. It's actually kind of fun.

Rinse and repeat everywhere:  You can apply this approach to almost any situation, whether business or personal: Giving feedback, pitching investors, disciplining employees, dealing with confrontation, playing a sport, starting and building relationships... it doesn't matter.  You don't need to be brave. Just take a systematic approach to developing skills and gaining confidence.  Do the work and bravery, composure, and coolness under fire are unnecessary.  They're automatic.

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