In a few days, the U.S. Open tennis tournament begins at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY. This week, I visited the tennis center to watch the qualifying matches for players who didn’t make the main draw and also watch some of the superstars (like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) practice.
I love watching tennis - and I think there are lessons from tennis that can apply to presentation skills:
PRACTICE IS REQUIRED
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the best tennis players in the world and they practice for several hours a day. They never say, "I'm good enough, I don't need to practice anymore." I watched each of them on court practice their serving, forehand and backhand shots and movement.
The same is true for presentations – if you want to give a powerful and effective presentation, you can’t just show up and “wing it.” The more comfortable you become at giving presentations, the more focused your practice becomes as you learn what specific aspect of the presentation you still have to work on.
MENTAL ATTITUDE IS KEY
During a match, what the player tells himself or herself is important, especially when they're down a set and facing a tough opponent. If a player thinks, "I can't beat this opponent; I'm going to lose," it will be very difficult to overcome that mindset and win. Instead, when a player uses positive self-talk, "Yes, I can do this!" along with an energetic fist pump in the air, he or she is better able to access their skills, step up their game and have a shot at winning.
Likewise, what you tell yourself when you present is also important. If you drown out the negative voice in your head and instead, use a positive phrase or mantra, you'll be able to present more effectively and confidently.
BODY LANGUAGE MATTERS
Two of my favorite tennis commentators, John and Patrick McEnroe, are always pointing out the players' body language – how players act between points, how they walk to the other side of the court, how they respond when they lose a point, etc. Negative body language sends a message to their opponent that they are giving up and don't believe they can win.
When you're presenting, your body language also sends a message to the audience – it should match the words you're saying and convey confidence and competence. For example, make eye contact with the audience, use appropriate gestures to illustrate your points, speak loudly enough to be heard and avoid nervous pacing.
The next time you have to give a presentation, remember these lessons from tennis to help you ace it.
Photo: Roger Federer practicing his forehand shot
Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people improve their presentation and communication skills so they can be more successful. Sign up to receive more public speaking and networking strategies from Gilda's e-newsletter: http://www.gildabonanno.com/Pages/newsletter.aspx
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