My obsession with sports helps me deliver better business presentations. Here’s how→

How a sports mentality can help you with business presentations

I love sports and I love American football. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure and something I enjoy following on a daily basis–even during the off-season. However, my obsession with this sport is centered on one team.

My team.

I read about them. I listen to radio shows covering them as well as listen to coach and player press-conferences.  Of course, I watch their games too. I’m what you’d call “a super fan.”

In obsessively following them for years, I have come to realize that the lessons contained within sports can certainly help us to improve our business presentation skills.

Interested to learn how any of this could be remotely true? Well, fasten your chin strap because this post will be coming at you hard and fast.

Yes, sports–including all of its tired cliches–align perfectly with that of the world of business presentations. Namely, the following have near perfect cross-over when it comes to considering success in both realms:


Rehearsal & Handling adversity

1. Perseverance 

Let me open by quoting Angela Duckworth author of the best selling book: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

“Talent and IQ matter, but without effort, they are simply the promise of what’s possible and not the guarantee.”

We could easily sub-out IQ and insert natural ability to make this quote work for sports. However, it is not a stretch to say that a person’s ability to keep battling despite experiencing hardship is a key factor in determining whether that individual is able to break through and find success.

Much like a battered NFL quarterback who has a day to forget, most speakers can likely relate to a time in which their big talk just didn’t work out. It happens. However, the successful athlete and business pro will do a few things immediately after such a performance.   

Review the tape

This means that he or she re-visits the performance to learn what worked and more importantly what didn’t in times of failure. As tough as this task can be, it is absolutely essential to learning how to avoid the same pitfalls in the future. Players with natural ability that fail to live up to their potential, usually skip this step.

The crossover into business presentations

A business professional who takes his/her career or business seriously will do the same. Reviewing one’s performance (good or bad) is essential to ensuring a steady rise to the top. Seeking feedback from others is one way. However, recording a talk is sooooo easy they days. There really are no excuses if you truly want to up your presentation game. Smartphones are a great tool to this end.

Not to mention, these handy dandy cheat sheets which accompany this post. The contents will help you take advantage of the information shared today and allow you to start acting on it. Grab them now!

Using a Sports Mentality to Deliver Better Business Presentations

Take things one game at a time

In the world of professional sport, this, of course, refers to limiting one’s emotional investment in any one game to just that. After a win, many teams will allow their players to bask in the glory for 24 hours and then that’s it. The same goes for a loss. Players have one day to wallow and then it’s time to move on.

The idea is that the key to sustaining success or building it is to stay relatively even-keeled. If painful losses linger, the chance that such doubts or negative feelings linger increases. Overconfidence can be equally deadly for obvious reasons. Therefore, coaches and players alike, love this sports truism.

The crossover into business presentations

Within business presentations, the same logic applies. If you beat yourself up over a poor performance and allow doubts about your ability to grow, the likelihood that these feelings morph into future anxiety compounds. Conversely, if you rock a presentation you need to let those feelings settle as well. Just as each game exists in its own vacuum, so do presentations. Past success does very little to guarantee future glory.    

2. Rehearsal & Handling Adversity

NFL teams are notorious for laborious practice schedules. Before a season will officially begin

teams will conduct multiple training camps in which players will gather and spend over a month at a training facility. The aim, of course, is to instill good practice habits, learn new skills as well as hone existing ones.

From there, once a season begins there is one game a week. Leading up to that game, players will physically and mentally rehearse upwards of six days in a row before their performance.

As fans, we are used to seeing excellence once those players take the field. The reason has to do with the talent of the players but more has to do with the time they dedicated to further developing their craft.

The crossover into business presentations

As for business presentations, skilled speakers value the same principles. In listening to someone seemingly deliver an exceptional presentation with little difficulty, it is easy to overlook what it took for that person to get to that level of excellence. The time spent on developing their delivery, stories, structuring, slides etc. is what sets them apart.

Chris Anderson of TED has stated that great 15 minute presentations can take upwards of 5 hours to fully memorize and perfect. That may seem like a lot of time, however, when measured against what that talk or a series of those talks can do for one’s career, business or otherwise is major. Reason being is that most people do NOT put in that amount of time. As such, your opportunity to shine is real and if leveraged can fuel your rise to the top.  

As an aside, I devoted a post to a mnemonic device that is sure to help cut that time down. It was a technique used in ancient Greece and not only that there is scientific backing for its efficacy. You can check it out here!   

There are many ways to rehearse and if you are a fan of this site, you’ll know that individuals can key in on various presentation skill sets such as voice, movement, storytelling, humor etc. However, there is another way to prepare that is just as important.


2. a) Mental Rehearsal aka Visualization  

There have been numerous studies exuding the benefits of seeing yourself execute whatever task you are preparing for in a smooth and successful manner. Pro athletes do this as do top entrepreneurs and professionals.

However, as of late, some stunning neurological research from Stanford University is adding some valuable insight and knowledge to the discussion. The idea is that to fully leverage the benefits of mental rehearsal, you ought to become familiar with the notion of motor preparation.

It is simply not enough to engage in positive thinking and imagining a positive outcome. Motor preparation involves a much more deliberate approach. The idea is to zero in on the actual activities within a performance during your rehearsal.

Visualizing and engaging with potential problems that may arise during your performance is one example of utilizing this knowledge. By seeing, feeling and experiencing potential pitfalls in your mind–in advance–you are giving yourself a chance to further develop your coping strategies to battle through such adversity.

2. b) Handling adversity

Let’s say you are tasked with giving a keynote talk and you are concerned about memory blackouts–a terrifying experience in which your mind goes blank.

As you visualize this less than desirable scenario you immediately begin to invoke your strategies to handle it. You imagine yourself starting your breathing exercises aimed at calming your nerves. Next, you enact your plan to rebound and recall your information from a cue card or note. You do this so over and over so that if such a moment occurs, you are prepared to handle it.

Again the key is being able to see yourself work your way through your performance. This should not be limited to only your visualized success but also to the onset of a challenging situation.

The connection to sports

To draw upon our sports narrative yet again, when a player drops a big pass, fumbles the ball away or gives up a big touchdown the critical component to that individual recovering is in the response.

Having the wherewithal to be prepared for the onslaught of negativity from fans, the coach or even from oneself is essential to being a top performer. All of this can be rehearsed in advance.

The crossover into business presentations

Presenters can do the same and be ready for occasions in which their big joke falls flat, a technical malfunction occurs or a story fails to resonate. Having your coping mechanisms chosen and practiced will do wonders as per thriving in all situations.  

To close out this section, I’d like to quote Brett Steenbarger a Forbes contributor who wrote an excellent piece covering this notion of mental rehearsal.  

“Without motor preparation, we remain stuck in old action patterns. In our usual states of mind and body, we gravitate to our usual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. Every great performance–in theater, on the playing field, and in life–is preceded by rehearsal.”

To Wrap Things Up:

To be a true gamer as far as your career or business is concerned, you need to ensure that you do not discount the importance of:

  • Perseverance
  • Rehearsal & Handling adversity

These elements will surely determine the ability with which you are able to produce outstanding business presentations. Also, don’t forget to swipe the free resources I made to go along with the post. Reading alone will not get you where you want to go. It takes action. Grab them now

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