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Using Your Imagination To Improve Your Performance

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

(Practical techniques to reduce public speaking anxiety 3/3)

Michael Phelps is one of many professional athletes that incorporate visualisation as part of their training. Before going to sleep, Phelps watches a “mental videotape” of himself swimming a successful race. The imagined action takes place from the blocks right through to the celebration of the win.

Visualisation exercises can also be helpful when preparing for a particular speaking engagement.

In ‘The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking,’ Dale Carnegie suggests, “Begin now to picture yourself before an audience you might be called upon to address. See yourself stepping forward with confidence, listen to the hush fall upon the room as you begin, feel the attentive absorption of the audience as you drive home point after point, feel the warmth of the applause as you leave the platform, and hear the words of appreciation with which individual members of the audience greet you when the meeting is over.”

Whether you’re preparing for a business pitch, work presentation, or keynote speech, practising visualisation can help you in two ways:

  1. It will consolidate what a successful performance looks like. Having a clear end goal in mind will help direct the content and delivery of your actual performance.

  2. By visualising a realistic imagined performance, you’re less likely to encounter ‘unknowns’ during your actual performance. Mentally rehearsing will help you anticipate the challenging aspects of public speaking, like all eyes being on you.

“You need to imagine yourself succeeding. In terms of your brain, it’s virtually the same thing as actually doing it. Think about it: in your imagination, you’ll set up the sequence of activities that leads to success in public speaking. When you get up to speak, then, you’ll simply carry out a set of familiar actions.” (Morgan, N. 2014. Forbes.)

You need to imagine yourself succeeding. In terms of your brain, it’s virtually the same thing as actually doing it.

The substance of a visualisation exercise will vary from speaker to speaker depending on the nature of the presentation they are preparing for. However, regardless of the presentation, there are five core areas speakers should focus on when engaging in a visualisation exercise.

The Opening: The beginning of a presentation is often the most challenging, so it’s important to focus on nailing the opening. What’s the first thing you say? Who do you look at for your opening remarks? What does a powerful opening feel like?

The Reaction: As speakers, the most immediate feedback we receive are the expressions on the faces in front of us. What do you want those expressions to communicate? Are they nodding in agreement? Do they seem pleased with what you’re presenting? Are they challenged by what you’re presenting?

Body-Language: As long as you exhibit the signals of a confident speaker, whether you are or not makes no difference to your audience. Consider what signals you want to portray when delivering your speech or presentation. What does confidence look like? How do you want to feel as you stand? Where are your hands? How’s your posture? Are you moving around or do you stay planted?

Pauses and Moments: Silence is a spotlight for poignant and important passages. When delivering a phrase or idea that you want the audience to remember, just...pause. Let it sink in.

Next Steps: What does your audience do immediately after you’ve delivered your presentation? Do they clap? Do they have follow-up questions? Do they lean over and whisper, ‘well done’ in your ear? Do they eagerly shake your hand?

Additionally, be sure your visualisation is detailed. It should be as realistic and lifelike as possible. Who is your audience? What are they wearing? Where are you standing in relation to the audience? What’s the temperature of the room? What time of day is it? How are you feeling? The more detail you can insert into your visualisation, the more helpful it will be as an exercise.

Please note that visualisation in itself is not a sufficient form of preparation for public speaking. It should be done in conjunction with research, planning, writing, and rehearsing.

- M

Carnegie, D. (1990). The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. Pocket Books

Morgan, N. (2014). Why Speakers Need To Visualize. Forbes.

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