What can virtual presenters learn from top athletes?
Dr. Carmen Simon –
Think of athletes whose skills you admire. Who comes to mind? Nadal? Tom Brady? Beckham? Top athletes have an outstanding power of anticipation, which they use to quicken their responses and read the game. Take tennis players, for instance. If you’ve ever wondered how Nadal can return a 129 mph serve, it is because he can anticipate whether that serve will go to his forehand or backhand. How does he do that? By being able to focus only on the most relevant cues in the opponent’s’ movement pattern. Top performers are excellent at picking up clues about what the opponent will do. The eyes of novices are all over the place, whereas top athletes’ focus is much more targeted and economical.
How do you sharpen your ability to anticipate in a virtual presentation? Here are two techniques:
- Operate in chunks.
Elite players do not remind themselves to move their feet or turn their shoulders because these movements are already packaged into “chunks” that have become fully automatic in their brains. While the nervous system of a skilled performer delivers small, accurate bursts of instructions to the body, producing a smooth response, the unskilled players operate on contradictory messages, creating jerky movements. It is the same in virtual presentations. Elite virtual presenters don’t have to remind themselves that they need to look at the chat box to comment on a question. They don’t have to consciously remind themselves of the steps to display a file or create a poll on the fly. These behaviors are automatic. Take a look at your skillset and the functions you’re using more frequently in a virtual session. Practice them continuously until they become automatic. This in turn enables you to be more attuned to the surroundings, such as picking up on specific comments in a chat box, without worrying what comes next.
- Develop your ability to visualize.
Skilled athletes have the capability to imagine what will happen rather than waiting the 200 to 500 milliseconds it takes the brain to become aware of what is happening. They create a “virtual reality”, which allows them to act as if thinking was indeed instantaneous. Before your next virtual event, picture the flow, how the presentation will unfold, what participants might say and do, and prepare a plan on how to tackle each possible components (e.g. “if the response to the survey is 60% in topic A, I will adopt technique A. Otherwise, I will switch to technique B.”) You will be appreciated for your ability to “improvise” (which in fact is your ability to anticipate).
Overall, keep in mind that in any field, while pros anticipate, novices respond. They have to see where “the ball” is thrown or hit before they can react. And that split second—and the hole it puts them in—is often not just the difference between a point won or lost but between a winning or losing a match. Or an audience.