By Rob Smith
Back in 2018, Mark and I landed the biggest speaking job of our careers to date. We were booked by one of the big four consultancy firms for an off-site event for their clients at a large event space in Prague.
The plan for the day was that the group would be broken up into 8 groups of about 30 clients, and these clients would go in shifts through four different Ted-style talks. The four topics were sleep, communication, nutrition and movement. Mark was on nutrition, I was on movement.
'What do you want your set to be?'
I was slightly confused when I received this question in an email. Set? Do they mean slides?
I asked for further details, and they let me know that they had a set building team who would build any style of set for our talks. Anything.
Mark shyly asked 'Would it be possible to have an old fashioned market stall cart filled up with fresh fruit and vegetables'
'Sure, anything else?'
'Err, would be nice to have a tray of 240 breakfast smoothies and energy balls made specifically to my recipe?'
'Yes no problem'
Ok then, so I decided to go bigger.
'Do you think it would be possible to create a teepee style caveman settlement complete with a roaring fire, oh and various bushes and trees, and also can you create an office set up on the other side of the room with office desk and chair etc?'
'Sure - we will have a think about the fire'
So we arrive in Prague, walk into this enormous building with the biggest hall I have ever seen, and lo and behold they have actually built these sets, they look amazing.
And my fire was there, albeit created using a selection of red LEDs shining through kindling, ok fair enough.
The next 24 hours went very quickly indeed, and suddenly it was time to deliver, not one talk, but 8 in a row.
Safe to say Mark and I were a tad nervous and the combination of the travel and preparation meant we were pretty knackered as well. I also decided to re-write half my talk the night before.
We needed to get ourselves into PEAK STATE.
Your state, or 'the particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time' can be controlled and should be controlled.
You wouldn't walk on to a sports pitch, about to play the biggest game of your career, without managing your state in some way. For some that might be psyching yourself up with music, for others it might be keeping yourself calm through meditation or breathing, the important factor is you are controlling it.
The moment before you go on stage, onto a sports pitch or into a business meeting, is not the time to be cramming in new information or worrying about your lines, it is the time to control your state. The state in which you will perform optimally for the task at hand.
For our task, we needed to make sure we were alert, confident, charismatic and yet also somehow calm and relaxed so as to not rush our words.
We agreed to have a Mob meeting before it was go-time, and I honestly don't remember how this happened but next thing I know we were in the side corridor, singing Michael Jackson, with our arms around each other jumping up and down. Thank God no one came round the corner!
It was a particular part of 'Wanna be starting something' by Michael Jackson, you may be familiar with the song, if not, head to the link below and go to 4.40
So there we were, chanting 'Muma Say Muma Sa Muma Coosa' over and over again, and then we gave each other a final hug, said something along the lines of 'We are going to smash this mate' and went to our respective stages.
We came away that day with a couple of great testimonials and an invite back to another event, so I think it went well!
I honestly believe this was largely down to us managing our state before we went on stage.
Firstly, we changed our physicality.
By jumping, we were energising ourselves, becoming alert.
By having our arms round each other, we were reminded that although we won't be delivering these together, we are a team and we are supporting each other.
The song itself, well it could have been anything really, but it felt quite silly, and made us feel relaxed and able to inject some humour into our talks, and have some fun with the audience which ultimately led to a better delivery and experience.
Secondly, some positive self-talk goes a huge way. There was no 'I think this will go well mate', it was all certainty.
I think we knew to do this instinctively thanks to the time we have spent in rugby changing rooms, and team huddles before a match.
This little sequence has since become a 'pre-match' routine for us.
Do you need to be energised and confident? Move around, stand tall, breathe deep.
Do you need to be calm and considered? Do some slower breathing exercises, look out at a nice view if you can, listen to some chilled music, or speak to a supportive friend.
2. Language - either with someone else, or self-talk
Remind yourself you have done the work, and it WILL go well.
'I've prepared for this. I'm going to go out there and have fun. Give it everything Rob. You'll smash this'
Next time you have something big, something important, something you care about, control your state!