Getting into a right state…

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”

Sir Winston Churchill

I’m not sure if Churchill was referring to the attitude I describe in this article. I’m also not sure that I agree it is a ‘little thing’.  However, I am sure that he was right in saying that attitude makes a big difference.

The attitude (or in NLP terms, the ‘state’) you adopt when you’re about to deliver a pitch, a presentation or a speech, plays a crucial part in how you come across to your audience. It can set the tone well – or badly – for the duration of your talk.

Ten years ago I finally decided to invest in NLP training, having had a fascination for ‘states’ or ‘attitudes’ of mind for over 15 years. The primary motivation for this was to have a suite of tools and techniques that would benefit clients I worked with. And not just in our sessions. They could take the techniques we’d practised together and use them on their own to accomplish a variety of goals in different areas of their lives. Including when they prepared for an important pitch or presentation.

Getting into a state

One of the more effective techniques you can use to realise your goals and get into your desired or optimal state of mind is process visualisation. This is not to be confused with outcome-based visualisation, which primarily focuses on your goal or vision. This encourages you to visualise the actions to take in order to achieve the desired goal. It’s powerful to have a vision, but far more powerful when used in combination with visualising the steps needed to accomplish it.

Californian psychologists, Pham and Taylor (1999) published a paper on a piece of research they conducted* whereby:

“For 5 to 7 days prior to a midterm examination, college freshmen mentally simulated either the process for doing well on the exam (good study habits) or simulated a desired outcome (getting a good grade) or both. A self-monitoring control condition was included. Results indicated that process simulation enhanced studying and improved grades; the latter effect was mediated by enhanced planning and reduced anxiety.”

Put another way, the mental simulation of the step-by-step process enhances the ability to visualise the outcomes, increasing the pursuit of the goal. Process visualisation is a simple technique to master and can be used in a variety of different situations. Athletes have been using this form of visualisation for decades.

Examples – and elements to practise through visualisation – of public speaking goals might be:-

  • reduce anxiety and manage nerves
  • convey credibility and gravitas
  • appear confident and competent
  • handle challenging questions and objections well

Let’s assume you’re using a slide deck that you have been involved in preparing. You might visualise, or ‘mentally simulate’, yourself:-

  • speaking fluently and confidently, supported by your slides
  • arriving ahead of time to ensure A/V equipment is compatible and working
  • coping effectively with any technical or logistical issues that arise
  • presenting to an audience who may seem distracted or unengaged (looking at their mobiles or chatting)
  • conversely – and hopefully – audience members may be nodding and smiling in agreement
  • handling a challenging question or objection with ease

The key is to link the thought with an action. These actions can then be rehearsed prior to an important presentation. Notice that all the above points are action-orientated.

About a year ago when working at Great Ormond Street Hospital, I co-delivered some training to several groups of ‘Super Users’ prior to the launch of a new clinical system. Some of the elements that worked well for me in practise were:-

  • brief, frequent project meetings for ten days leading up to the start of the training, giving me a high degree of comfort with the subject matter
  • owning the content on the slide deck, through familiarising myself and editing where necessary
  • rehearsing alone (recording myself on my mobile) and in front of two colleagues – including any concerns and tricky questions and how we would address these
  • visualising my delivery a further two or three times
  • making sure the A/V equipment in all rooms where we would be training was checked ahead of time

That’s not to say that there were no technical glitches or challenging questions, but anticipating obstacles and preparing for them, using a combination of visualisation and rehearsal, is what made these sessions successful.Being so well-prepared created a confident and competent attitude in those training sessions from day one and was clearly conveyed to my audience. It can help to reduce anxiety as well as distinguish an acceptable presentation from an outstanding one.

Process visualisation has you plan and take the necessary steps to ensure that you have prepared well, which in turn gives you greater confidence and reduces your anxiety, putting you in the right state prior to your presentation. Perhaps not as exciting or thrilling as fantasising about a standing ovation, but more practical and usually more effective.

Thinking about the next time you are asked to present at an important meeting or deliver a paper at a conference, what might you be able to prepare for in advance to get you into that right mental state? Could you anticipate some potential difficult questions or objections that might be raised and prepare your answers in advance?

Or, as Sir Winston Churchill was heard to say: “I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks”.


*Pham, Lien B. and Shelley E. Taylor (1999), “From Thought to Action: Effects of Process-Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25 (2), 250-60.