7 Principles for Applying Mental Toughness to Public Speaking and Presentations.

” Mental Toughness  is a state of mind, not a fact. No matter how much or how little stress we feel before a public speech we are about to give,  we’re always just doing what we’re doing, simply living this one moment of our lives to the best of our ability. So use that anxiety and fear to drive positive expectations and energy. ”  Dr. Mark W. Hardwick, Communication Coach  .

Winning seems so easy and natural for the Nadal’s and Feder’s of the tennis world. And in other sports too. But the real secret seems to be mental preparedness and toughness.  The perception that winning is easy we know is false but it does look like their work is play. Many of us chalk it up to the person is naturally talented and gifted.

In other world’s such as politics and business MT is also an important factor in being successful.

Obama seems to have it –calm and ”kool” under pressure yet lacking some toughness in regard to HCR, Oil Spill etc. Especially, if you are a progressive which we now know he is not.  This somewhat vague concept of MT could be the critical factor for identifying effective leadership in the 21st Century.

So what is mental toughness? It can be defined as the ability to access and maintain focus and determination to complete a course of action despite complexity, distractions, difficulties or unknown consequences. Some say it is the will to never give-up or quit.

So the question is: Can “mental toughness” (MT) be taught or is innate? Let’s look at the sports world where MT is often used to describe super stars. Many athletes and coaches think, MT is an innate quality or talent that you are born with and they believe it can’t be taught or learned because it is a part of your DNA or it isn’t. According to this school of thought mental toughness is usually something you’re born with and is reinforced early in life by your parents and environment. These authorities believe it’s hard to take a sensitive “mommies boy” and make him tough no matter what you do. This obviously is the nature vs. nuture argument. The nurture position states that people can be shaped and learn from different experiences, modeling and teaching.


Motivation and MT from Sports to Presentations


The root of mental toughness lies in motivation. Those who are deemed mentally tough typically exhibit what sports psychologists call “intrinsic achievement motivation.” A study featured in Psychology of Motor Behavior and Sport defines this as the desire to be self-determining. People who are intrinsically motivated are self- starters, willing to push themselves to the brink for the love of their sport or activity. They need little encouragement to give their best effort, and they often do well setting their own goals. For others, who are called “game players” they only begin to jell when the pressure of competition is on. They go through the motions in practice and drive coaches crazy. They only shine in the chance to compare themselves with others. These guys have what’s called “achievement motivation” and do their best only under the gun. You hear them say things like give me the ball I want to take the penalty kick or final shot when the BB game is on the line. They do not fear failure.  All things being equal between two competitors, whoever is higher in achievement motivation will be the better athlete, hands down.

Other researchers have said that motivation is important but brain chemistry can over ride desire/motivation if he player experiences anxiety. With too much anxiety detrimental changes in our brain and biochemical reactions take place. Stress research calls this the flight or fight response.  Now we have new brain research evidence reported by Dr. James Loehr, a famous performance psychologist, and Daniel Goleman, known for his work in Emotional Intelligence, that links negative thoughts and arousal with the stress hormone cortisol.  Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex.  Cortisol has been associated with feelings of anxiety, tension, helplessness, and loss of control.  Positive thoughts and pleasant experiences are linked to a positive trigger or rush of adrenaline, and an increase of epinephrine and norepinephrine. The positive jolts make for better performance.

Having an optimistic attitude can help increase the positive effects of epinephrine and norepinephrine.  Optimism, which produces these positive brain chemicals reduce many anxiety symptoms and can provide performers with the positive energy to focus and concentrate on the activity at hand.

By learning to “look on the bright side,” of challenges and seeing stressful situations as opportunities for growth, you increase the likelihood of producing a positive mental and arousal state.  This positive mental state leads to a chain of biochemical events that mobilize the brain and the body to cope more effectively with the situation.  A positive reaction to stress can then lead to what Dr. Loehr, calls the challenge response, which counteracts the negative effects of stress and improves your performance and enjoyment in presenting and speaking to groups. The challenge response helps leaders and high performance jocks to be more calm, relaxed, alert, energetic, inspired, and enthused. Mental Toughness, a phrased coined by internationally renowned peak performance guru Dr. Jim Loehr, has it roots in tennis, where Loehr first came to prominence. Applied to tennis, Mental Toughness training specifically targets physical rituals before and after points to help create focus and calm during a tennis competition.

Applications for staying focused and being mentally tough in making presentations


Practicing Mental Toughness techniques prior to your presentation will help you handle more stress during your performance. Below I will share the mental set and  rituals of Ideal Presentation and Mental Toughness principles:

1. Be your own best supporter and critic–slow down, take a breath and begin presenting with confidence

2. Be clear, concise and committed to meeting the needs of the audience and challenging them to rethink positions and take positive action for change.

3. Believe fully in your ability and strength to communicate effectively, so you can present openly, naturally and confidently to your audience.

4. Be prepared to present greatly by demonstrating your passion for the topic and message.

5. Present with an authenticity and believability that is sincere and resonates with the audience

6. Don’t try to hard to be accepted or worry about the outcome of your communication.

7. Love the challenge of communicating with whomever and connecting with others.

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