Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Coping with "Mental Hi-Jacking"

Don't go there!
As a learning & development professional, I talk a lot about the 3 things it takes to make a person good at something – it takes knowledge, skills and attitude.

Although some might argue with this, I’ve always found that the first two play only a small part in achieving success of any sort – but especially in making a speech or presentation.
Yes, you need to know enough about your subject to be worth listening to and you need some ability to actually present, but really, it’s the mind-set, beliefs, attitude and self-talk that ultimately determine how well you do (or don’t do!).
This mental aspect of performance is much harder to develop and is more easily damaged than the “knowing” and “doing” bits.
Here’s a real life example that’s pretty entertaining for us, but not for poor old former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd.  Below is a clip that was released to the internet last year where he was trying to record a Chinese New Year message …. in Mandarin! He kept having difficulty with the complicated script that was given to him and got pretty frustrated. Have a look and then I’ll debrief it afterwards (warning: contains some bad language!).

Ok, I have to admit, I found some of this pretty hilarious, but I could also see how he ended up getting mentally and emotionally “hi-jacked” and performing so poorly.
Where did it fall down? He certainly has the knowledge to do this, as he studied the language in college and even lived in Taiwan for a while. For sure, he has the skill - as a seasoned politician, he’s been trained to speak in public and has done so probably thousands of times in his career. Just to prove both the knowledge and skill side of things, you can see him doing an impressive job speaking to an audience in Mandarin here.
So, clearly, this time, it’s the mental part of his performance that has slipped.
Listen to the words he’s using: “impossible”, increase in aggressive words (f**king this, f**king that, “those d**kheads”, “bloody interpreter”); “how can anyone do this?”, “this is becoming hopeless”, “just f**kin hopeless”, “I f**ked up the last word”
Look at his body language: shaking his head (a lot!), big hand gestures (showing his frustration), shifting in his seat, tightening his jaw, pursing his lips, grimacing, banging the table, sighing, closing his eyes,  looking into the distance, freezing / going blank
Observe his behaviour: getting aggressive, blaming others, catastrophising, barking instructions (though he was reasonably controlled here!)
You can imagine his self-talk is probably going something like this:  “now the whole evening will be ruined” (e.g. cancelling the 6 o’clock meeting), “I’m not going to be able to do this”, “Now I look like an idiot”, “Am I ever going to get this?”, “Why did I even agree to record this message?”, “I should be able to do this”
When all of this starts to gather momentum, it takes a serious effort to get your mindset back on track. So, how can he – or more importantly, YOU – overcome this? Here are a few thoughts:
1.  Hit the brakes. Stop what you’re doing. Step away and change your scenery, if possible. Take a short break and do something else that’s unrelated.
2.  Hit the restart button. Try to wipe the event clean from your memory. Focus on the 95% that you got right. Start again with a “yes I can” mindset.
3.  Change something. The location, the way your facing, stand up (or sit down!), the wording, the order – anything that will cause your brain not to think “uh oh, here it comes again!”.
4.  Acknowledge your emotions. Label them and let them out. E.g. “Man, this is really frustrating me. I’m worried I’m going to look like an idiot.” This is WAY better than holding them in and being dragged down by them.
5.  Enlist help. Bring in the experts (like me!) or ask others for their inputs. E.g. “How does that sound to you?”, “What am I doing wrong?”.  You don’t have to follow their advice or thoughts, but it reminds you that you’re not alone and, after all, they might be able to help.
6.  Try to put the fun back into it.  No one is going to die because you make a mistake in your speech. Laughing is a great release of stress. Imagine watching yourself on YouTube getting more and more frustrated!
There’s way more to say on this, but I better wrap it up. In this example, I know he had time on his hands and it wasn’t “live”, so maybe I’ll cover that in a future post – i.e. what do you do if you start slipping down the confidence slope right there, during your speech? 
If you’re in more urgent need of help, just contact me any time to talk about No More Nerves coaching.
Finally – just to prove that laughter may be the best medicine, have a look at Jason Byrne’s impression of poor Mr. Rudd J