Ways of Thinking Like an Athlete Will Improve Your Communication Skills


Simone Biles has been at the forefront of the Olympic headlines. After learning the “twisties” or “yips” in sports, I couldn’t believe the comparison with communication skills. In sports, “an athlete may try to compensate for increased physiological or cognitive stress or a lack of self-confidence by consciously trying to control movements that were previously automatic,” according to LiveScience.

The communicating clients I work with regularly report similar experiences when presenting. Even seasoned speakers will take a hit in their confidence after overthinking a presentation and then feeling bombarded.

We are all expert at speaking to some extent. We spend a lot of time each day communicating with our colleagues, family and friends. But when the pressure is on, we can overthink this very natural, practiced skill and end up with what feels like an out-of-body experience.

If you regularly experience speaking “twisties” or just get caught off guard every now and then, especially now that we come back to talking to people IRL, here are three techniques for avoiding “yelping” when yapping.

Repeat your behaviors

Sports psychologist Kelli Moran Miller recommends that athletes reproduce the stressful aspects of competition while training. This allows the stakes to look more familiar when it’s time to compete.

I use a similar technique with my communication clients that I call: The first 10 seconds.

The first ten seconds of any presentation are essential in establishing credibility. These are also usually the most agonizing ten seconds of the presentation for the speaker.

For the exercise, I ask each participant to walk to the podium, wait five seconds, then say their name, their title, and how happy they are to be here with all of us. Sounds easy enough, right? This is never the case.

From the speaker’s perspective, that five seconds of silence can be excruciatingly vulnerable. From the audience’s point of view, these five seconds of silence command concentration and exude confidence.

Repeating The first 10 seconds before your next presentation, you can train your mind and body to relax. Now those first few moments can make it easier for you to present instead of contributing to your anxiety.

Repeat your thoughts

Mental imagery is an essential tool for athletes. They imagine their position. They imagine throwing the perfect pitch. They see the goal line. By using these imaging tools, they better prepare for a performance or competition when the pressure is on. It might sound a little fantastic, but studies have shown that these types of visualizations are effective. This is another tool that you can steal from athletes to apply to public speaking.

Before giving an important presentation, take the time to imagine the event as a success. Just start by visualizing the walk to the stage (or where you will be speaking). Imagine the feeling of both feet on the ground and no longer the space in front of you. In your mind, see the room and the space. See yourself as relaxed, genuine and engaging. Public speaking is a skill – and while it might seem counterintuitive, you can repeat this in your mind to help you execute these skills when the pressure is on and your performance matters most.

Repeat your breath

Diaphragmatic breathing is an absolute game changer. Athletes use it to improve performance by reducing anxiety. You can use it to become a better communicator. This “stomach breathing” will keep you focused and in the moment.

Diaphragmatic breathing is the natural way of breathing. The easiest way to remember how to breathe through the diaphragm is to place your hand on your stomach while lying down. Notice that your breath falls into your stomach and fills it like a balloon. Remember this feeling when you are standing.

Start practicing this now. When you listen to other people, notice how you breathe. When you speak, notice how you breathe. By letting “stomach breathing” become a habit, you will have another tool to reduce stress when you feel “twists” or “jps” setting in.

By developing these habits of repeating your behavior, thoughts, and breathing, you have a better chance of “holding your landing” while you communicate and getting the results you want.


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