Pressure Drop: 5 Tips to Performing Better Under Pressure

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Not long ago, I was chatting with a woman at a cocktail party when the conversation turned to work.  I mentioned that I’m a storyteller and the woman smiled.

“That’s great,” she said. “Now, tell me a story.”

I froze.  I made an excuse about having too many stories to tell, but the woman wouldn’t have it.

“I want to hear a good story.  Please, just one!”

I dabbed the sweat from my forehead and told her a short anecdote about my day.   She looked confused.  As we parted ways, all I could think about  were all the stories I could have told had I been relaxed.

Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever needed to tell a good story or be creative on the spot, either at a party or in the office?!?

To help you find inspiration and self-expression under duress, here are “5 Tips to Performing Better Under Pressure.”  With a little practice, you’ll be as cool under pressure as Fonzie on water skis.  

1. Breathe.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the easiest way to focus your mind is to first focus on your breath.  The key to doing this is abdominal breathing.   Abdominal breathing slows your heart rate and improves the flow of oxygen to your blood cells, sharpening focus almost instantly.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly ideas and stories will come to you.

2. Move Your Body.  Shake our your limbs and stretch.  The movement returns blood to your extremities, which in turn tricks your mind into believing that your body is relaxed.  Once your body is relaxed, your mind will focus along with it.

3. Use Your Environment.  One of the easiest ways to find inspiration is to look around you and link, or “daisy chain”, your ideas.  As I write this, rain is falling outside my window.  The rain makes me think of biking in the rain, which reminds me of the time I nearly avoided death on a bike ride in San Francisco.  I now have a story just from looking out the window.

4. Go “A to C”.  If your environment just isn’t inspiring enough, this is a great tool.  In improv, going “A to C” means thinking of word associations and using them to drum up ideas.  For example, the word “table” makes me think of “table tennis”, which makes me think of “paddles”.  I’m now thinking about stories involving (a) water; (b) boating; and (c) fraternity initiations.  And the best part?  You can do this in under twenty seconds.

5.  Take Your Time.  Once you start telling performing, be patient with yourself even if you’re not completely sure where things are going.  Patience instills confidence in your audience, allows you more time to think on your feet, and (as a performer) seems to slow down time.

Pretty cool, right?

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