Do a Pre-Mortem Before Your Next Talk


If you have worked with me in the past, you know I’m a proponent of positive thinking and following your strengths. But being positive and channeling your thoughts doesn’t mean being self-delusional or ignoring the obstacles life throws at you. In fact, I encourage you to embrace your “Dougie Downer “ side, the part of you that foresees all the possible catastrophes that can happen and potential pitfalls in presenting.

The Pre-Mortem is just that: going through the potential problems with your eyes wide open and coming up with solutions. Acknowledging that obstacles exist. In Ryan Holiday’s book: The Obstacle is the Way he writes:

 “Competitors surround our business. Unexpected problems suddenly rear their heads. We’re out of our comfort zone. Don’t forget, there are people out there looking to get you. They want to intimidate you. Rattle you. They want you thinking and acting on their terms, not yours.

So the question is, are you going to let them? When we aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride. Stuff is going to happen that catches us off guard, threatens or scares us. Surprises (unpleasant ones, mostly) are almost guaranteed. The risk of being overwhelmed is always there.

In these situations, talent is not the most sought-after characteristic. Grace and poise are, because these two attributes precede the opportunity to deploy any other skill.

Defiance and acceptance come together well in the following principle: there is always a countermove, always an escape or a way through, so there is no reason to get worked up. No one said it would be easy, and of course, the stakes are high, but the path is there for those ready to take it.”

Here’s How You Do a Pre-Mortem:

Step One: Write up a list of every possible problem and worst case scenario that you have running through your mind. It is crucial that you write them down and limit yourself to ONE HOUR. Sit down with a pen and paper, a computer, your phone and write ‘em.

Don’t try and come up with solutions just yet. Let your mind run free with all of your worst fears and get them on paper or the screen. Some examples my clients have had: I blank my main point, I lose my notes, My topic is completely wrong, The audience is a bunch of a-holes, etc..

Step Two: Sift through and decide your top five issues. Just limit yourself to 5 to start and save the rest for later.

Step Three: Come up with solutions. This is the Easy Part! It’s important to come up with specific actions that you can take not just thoughts about how to solve it. Like:

What if I blank my main point?

  1. Then I will look down and read my notes because I will have my main point written large, legible font.
  2. Then I will read the PowerPoint I created.
  3. Then I will take a breath.

What if I lose my notes?

  1. Then I will go to my back up notes that I have on my phone.
  2. Then I will go with what I remember.
  3. Instead of relying heavily on notes, I’ll say my talk out loud over and over again before the talk so that I have it committed to memory in a way that feels natural.

And in the case where you can’t do anything…well, it will suck, but I’ll be okay. Like sometimes you just have a group of a-holes and that is that. Are you going to let them define you?

There are actually many ways of dealing with tough audiences, but that is a different post. If nerves get you, check out this past article: Seven Strategies to Overcome Nerves.

Face the doubts, the problems, the fears head on. Deal with them. If your biggest hurdle is your mindset and negative thoughts ruminating regardless of your level of preparedness, then I suggest NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and Hypnosis as a good starting point. I can help you on both of those fronts. 

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