Pete Sampras, Nerves and Making Great Presentations

Dynamic communication is one of the five keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to do three things: 1) become a great conversationalist; 2) write clearly and succinctly; and 3) present well – to groups of two or 200.

Public speaking frightens many people.  There is the oft quoted study that when people were asked what scares them the most, speaking in front of a group came up first; death was fourth – meaning that most people would rather die than give a talk.

I realize that this is not true in a literal sense, but many people are really afraid of speaking in front of a group.  What about you?  Does public speaking make your really nervous?

Unfortunately, you have to be good at presentations if you want to succeed in your life and career.  This doesn’t mean that you should never be nervous.  It means that you shouldn’t let your nerves become so debilitating that you make poor presentations.

Cathy gave me Pete Sampras’ new book, A Champion’s Mind, for my birthday.  If you read this blog with some regularity, you know that I am a huge tennis fan.  Pete has written a great book, for tennis fans, and for those people who want to get an inside look at how a great champion became a great champion.

Do you remember Pete as a player?  Did you like his style, or like some, did you find him boring?  How do you think he would stack up against today’s top players, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer?  Please leave a comment, letting us know.

I bring up Pete’s book here because of something he has to say about nerves.  In 1992, he lost the US Open final to Stefan Edberg.  Here is what he had to say about that match…

“The real giveaway, I came to realize, was that I hadn’t been nervous before the match.  There are two kinds of nervous in tennis: bad nervous, which can make you freeze up, play an inhibited game or choke; and good nervous, which is a sign that the match you are about to play really means a lot to you – a sign that you can’t wait to get out there and mix it up with your opponent, even if you’re not guaranteed the win.”

I find this to be true about presentations as well.  Presentation bad nervous means that you are so frightened and nervous that you do a poor job of communicating.  Presentation good nervous means that you are ready to go, you’re feeling prepared and anxious to begin, and that you’ll do a great job of communicating.

I do hundreds of talks every year.  I never worry if I’m a little nervous and on edge beforehand because that means that I’m going to do a good job.  I worry when I am not somewhat nervous. Just like Pete Sampras, when this happens, I’m often flat and don’t do as good a job as I’m capable.  (Unfortunately, this is about the only comparison I can draw between myself and Pete.)

The common sense point here is simple.  It’s OK to be nervous before a presentation.  In fact, it’s a good thing because, as Pete Sampras says, the talk you are about to give “really means a lot to you.”  The trick is to channel your nerves and nervous energy into doing a dynamic presentation – one that not only communicates your information clearly and succinctly, but one that shows your passion for your topic.  The best way to get to the state that Pete calls “good nervous” is to know your material, and to practice it out loud.

That’s my take on Pete Sampras’ thoughts on good nervous and bad nervous, and how to create good nervous before your next presentation.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your presentation triumphs and horror stories.  As always, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and comments.  Thanks for reading – and writing.


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