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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Speaking and Presentations


The Mental Game of Speaking

Are You a Mentally Tough Speaking Athlete?

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Can you play at the top of your game on demand? How do you handle the rigors of the high stress professional speaking game? Mental toughness is the ability to thrive on stress and to perform in the upper ranges of our potential more often. The top athletes who possess mental toughness live this every day. Professional speakers are the pro athletes of the business world. The speakers who continually perform to their potential over a lifetime know what it takes to build and maintain a strong mental game.

Here are some tools and attitudes that you, as a mentally tough speaking athlete, can hold about yourself, your audiences and the speaking business. Reflect on them, discuss them with others and write about them in your journal. Use them to build your mental toughness.

1. You Don't Hope For an Easy Life; You Strive to be a Strong Person. Top athletes seek the rigors of competition and thrive on seeing how they rise to the occasion. You seek challenging opportunities and realize the speaking business is not for the faint of heart. You continually seek assignments which help you grow personally and professionally.

2. You Love the Craziness of the Pro Speaking Business. You accept the often ambiguous and unpredictable nature of our business and learn to adapt, be flexible and overcome the inevitable curves thrown at you. You flow like a mentally tough athlete handling every roadblock imaginable with poise and mastery.

3. You Have a Mistake Management System. Athletes make mistakes every time they compete. They have a system to maintain their confidence and refocus on the task at hand immediately. When you make an error, you breathe, relax, smile or joke, recover and maintain poise and balance. You practice "ad-libbed" humorous recovery phrases and have backup plans to handle any problem contingencies in your programs.

4. You View "Tough Audiences" as Being Your Teachers. You reframe them as partners in co-creating a valuable learning experience you both share. The more difficult your audience, the greater the victory in winning them over and the more you raise the bar on your influencing skills. Any win is more meaningful when it is more difficult to achieve.

5. You Use the Specificity of Training Principle. You rehearse in your mind and in actuality, using all props, aids, and movements key elements of your program exactly as they will be so there are no surprises. Olympic stars believe that practice does not make makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

6. You View "Speaking Slumps" as Opportunities For Growth. You view these as a normal part of a speaker's development. You examine the "slump" or plateau, learn from it and use it to go to the next level. You are careful as to how you define a slump so you don't create one when one isn't there.

7. You Use the Concept of Automaticity. You over-prepare and know your material cold so your mind is free to do audience calibration. You read the audience instead of being in your head "remembering" what to do or say next. This allows you to be creatively extemporaneous, and to be in relationship with your audience. You are audience-centered and meet their needs at every moment.

8. You Use Negative Thinking and Visualization. You are a positive thinker, yet you also use negativity thinking or mastery visualization where you plan ahead for potential problem contingencies and practice responses to unusual or difficult speaking circumstances. You plan and hope for the best, but you open your eyes to potential bumps in the road in advance.

9. You Take a Strategic Stance About Difficulties in the Business. You look back to see how far you've come in the business and how each challenging event toughens you mentally to be able to handle higher levels of stress. You have perspective and can execute tactically as you hold a long-range, wise, strategic viewpoint.

10. You Use Periodization to Recover From Stress. Our business is exciting yet energy-draining. You create a periodization scheduling system for allowing your body and mind to heal regularly and to restore energy reserves so you can operate at peak more often. Athletes know they can't train, compete and work continuously. They schedule days off and mini-vacations each day for recovery.

Top athletes and speakers train with dedicated precision, know when and how to recover, take the strategic long-term view and execute to their optimum abilities. Use the mental game secrets of sports stars and take your speaking game to the next level.

To learn more about how presentation coaching can help you become a better, more confident speaker, visit Bill Cole, MS, MA, the Mental Game Coach™ at

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2005, 2008 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 66-item presentation skills assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game of speaking and giving presentations.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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