I was just reading about this article by Malcolm Gladwell in his book: What The Dog Saw. In his article “The Art of Failure”, he pointed out the difference between choking and panicking. This is especially interesting for people with public speaking woes and I shared this article with my clients.
Choking occurs when you know exactly what to do but you some how are not able to do it. Lets take for instance a tennis player who is leading in his game against his opponent. He has only 2 more points to win. Yet at that crucial moment, something snaps, he’s playing like a beginner all over again. His balls are too flat, his serves all go into the net. He just seems to deflate and it spirals into a total loss in the game. I do believe every one of us has been in this pivotal moment before, be it in sports or at work, we go back home thinking. “It was so near yet so far”. That’s choking.
Turns out that many of my clients don’t panic in presentations. Yes they do feel nervous and all, but when the actual presentation starts, they choke on what they want to say. Well the good news is, according to the research, people who choke are people who know their stuff; they know their stuff too well. So when they know too much, during a presentation, all the information actually rushes to their head and overwhelms them. Suddenly they are at a loss for words.
What do you then do when you choke? Choking happens when what you have been practicing for is lost, in other words, things that you have ingrained into you vanish into thin air, like facts and figures. It happens especially to the person who has rehearsed his presentation many times because it is IMPORTANT. Choking happens, when that happens, you will need to have a structure to rely on. You will need either cue cards or some keywords scribbled somewhere on your notes to remind you and pull you back from the overwhelming that is taking place in your consciousness.
The key thing to take away is that if you do choke, its not because you have had a lack of practice…its more due to too much practice. Take breather before your presentation and allow the speech to happen.