Having traveled the world to compete for the United States at national and world figure skating competitions, I have experienced my fair share of heart-pounding moments and hosted butterflies in my stomach more times than not. The nerves figure skaters feel when performing are no different than during tough interviews, important presentations, or uncomfortable conversations with co-workers and bosses. Next time you find yourself in a high pressure situation where stakes are high, try these tips to help you exude grace and poise.
1. Don’t let them see you sweat!
The last thing you want to do while in a high pressure situation is display any feelings of intimidation or fear in front of the audience, judges, or competitors, even if you’ve made a costly mistake. I have experienced cheek-reddening slips (not just on the ice!) in front of important people, and have come to realize, much to my relief, it does not foretell the end of the world. I re-framed my approach to those moments and began to view those situations as an opportunity to show how I could gracefully recover.
If you are giving a presentation and feel yourself rushing like those speed talkers at the end of pharmaceutical commercials or rambling like you’ve lost all semblance of coherence, pause for a moment, allow yourself to step back mentally, breathe, and slow down. Actively invoking the calm you desire to experience internally will eventually manifest itself into genuine feelings of cool, controlled confidence.
2. Know your worth.
In figure skating, the ones who receive the highest scores do not necessarily possess the best technique—instead, they are the ones who sell the performance to the audience and invoke the attitude that they deserve the gold. Similarly, if you go into a job interview doubting your abilities and questioning whether you deserve the position compared to other applicants, you will convey that lack of confidence to the interviewer.
Try not to focus on what you may lack, and actively remind yourself of your accomplishments, skills, and all the reasons you should get the job. The more you engage in positive self-talk, the more you will know and believe your worth. That bolstered “belief” will also better equip you to bounce back from any disappointment that comes your way, and that resiliency will in turn increase your chance for success in the long run.
3. No matter how inconsequential it seems, practice makes perfect.
The endless hours of training on the ice and in any sport not only develops skills, but muscle memory that makes for confident, poised, and polished performances. The more you prepare yourself for a high pressure situation, the better you perform. Writing out potential interview questions beforehand, asking a peer to observe you run through a practice proposal, or studying up on literature to improve your knowledge of a particular subject are invaluable training efforts. As the skills you practice become more natural, you will simultaneously feel more confident about your preparedness for the upcoming event.
4. Fuel and recharge.
Eating well and resting your body is important whether you are an athlete or young professional. Taking care of yourself is critical to maintaining a sharp mind and helping ready yourself when office frenzy hits. I found it was helpful to make small lifestyle changes rather than wholesale changes that are naturally harder to maintain. Simple, smart changes can energize you and heighten your ability to tackle any nerve-wracking challenges thrown your way.
5. Channel the adrenaline.
When a lot rests on a big competition, adrenaline is always high so it’s easy to feel jittery and out of sorts, and lose the component of calm and control that is necessary for peak performance. The key is in perception, and in positively viewing adrenaline as a boost as opposed to an obstacle; channeling the added bursts of energy will propel you forward rather than psyche you out.
6. Do not stress over what you cannot control.
Without fail, obstacles arise: luggage does not arrive after overseas flights, competitors can be less than friendly, and illness can strike on the day of competition. We all receive curveballs, so let’s be ready for it. When things don’t go our way, let’s be flexible and shake it off as best we can. If anything, appreciate the adversity as an opportunity to grow stronger, and feel excited about the prospect of thriving even when conditions are less than ideal—you will feel a much greater sense of achievement!
How do you maintain composure when the pressure’s on? Share in the comments!
Ask Levo Mentor Fran Hauser, President, Digital at Time Inc. Style & Entertainment Group, how she handles high pressure situations.