But I’ve found in my work supporting businesses to win bids and tenders, and through talking with sports coaches, that there is a piece of psychology that is confirmed repeatedly in practice. That is that our ability to perform well and to improve our performance is governed by our perception of ourselves.
Time and time again I find people who tell me that they don’t like giving presentations or don’t enjoy dealing with probing and even slightly confrontational questioning from clients. Technical knowledge isn’t the issue – they usually understand their business proposition and the client’s needs inside-out.
And it isn’t that they don’t know what they should be doing to project a positive and confident image. Many have been on training courses and been told about body language, presentation style and active listening. It’s just that they’ve never been able to successfully apply what they’ve been taught. They just can’t make themselves do it in a pressure situation.
The choice of language is always revealing. People rarely say that they’re no good at giving presentations; they almost always say they just don’t like the experience. That’s part of post-rationalising why the last presentation went so badly.
Keep it real
Part of the problem is that the unnatural experience of a presentation or a high-pressure client interview can heighten anxiety and self-consciousness. A large part of it is also that they haven’t developed a deep-seated belief in their ability to succeed.
And where it gets really challenging is that so much of that belief comes from the sub-conscious mind rather than the friendly, predictable conscious mind that we like to kid ourselves controls our actions, and which conventional training can influence.
Our emotions, and hence our behaviour, are so often governed by what we’ve sub-consciously observed ourselves doing. If we’ve never seen ourselves handle a presentation or tricky meeting well, we have no well of positive experiences to draw on to give us confidence and resilience.
That’s why effective coaching is realistic. Cricket commentators are fond of saying that there’s no substitute for ‘time out in the middle.’ In the practice nets you can hit perfect cover drives and land your deliveries on a sixpence. But it’s no use if you can’t bring the same confidence into a game where the environment is different.
A friendly audience can be your worst enemy
So too with presentation skills. Delivering a presentation that doesn’t matter to a friendly audience in an artificial classroom environment will tell you little about how you will behave when the chips are down. It will not help you build the self-belief and resilience that you will really need because it is so far removed from the reality of the situation where you will need to perform.
In coaching sessions we are often focusing on delivering a real presentation that will be part of a tendering process. As the ‘audience’ I try to respond as much like a real client as possible, which sometimes means being unresponsive and quite pointed in my questioning.
But unlike a real client I’m also able to offer feedback that gets you to reflect on aspects that were delivered well to reinforce that positive experience. And there will be specific aspects of the delivery that we then go back and work on. Again it’s about starting to build a stock of positive experiences and self-observations, so that deep down you believe you can do it.
Conventional training tends to focus on a standard model of how you should do something. Coaching is different. An expert golf pro doesn’t try to make you swing a golf club like Rory McIlroy. They will look at details that you can change to give you a positive experience of hitting the ball well.
Half the time it isn’t that they have changed anything fundamental to make you a better golfer - it’s that they’ve given you the belief that you can perform because you’ve ‘seen’ yourself do it.
Breaking the cycle of negative self-perception means that you can succeed when it matters, and go on improving
Hugh Graham, The Bid Coach
Building your confidence through individual presentation skills coaching.