“I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” - Michael Jordan
Many athletes use the technique of visualization to help improve their game. Clearly it worked for Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in the 1990s. Combining visualization with long hours of practice trained Jordan’s muscle-memory to kick in during play, enabling him to make the shot nearly every time!
Visualization is the formation of a mental image of something. Muscle memory is the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, and is acquired by frequent repetition of that movement. This allows a person to mentally see a desired outcome, and then their actions automatically kick in to make the outcome a reality.
Can this be applied to what you do as a project manager? Absolutely!
Let’s use the skill of presenting–not a routine weekly status or budget update, but rather a BIG presentation to executives for approval on a new project or direction, or to a large potential customer to build confidence on how professionally their project will be managed. You have weeks and possibly months to prepare for this meeting. Follow the path below to deliver big results.
- Know the Rules - In order to play the game, you need to at least understand the rules of presenting. You have good storytelling techniques, your slides complement what you are saying, you’re not reading them word-for-word, and they are easy to understand. If you don’t have a solid understanding of how to assemble and deliver presentations, there are plenty of courses, books, webinars, and videos available that will get you up to speed quickly.
- Perform Drills - Practice going over different parts of your presentation. If you are not comfortable with a topic, spend extra time bringing yourself up to speed in that area so you feel confident when you present. Record yourself on video giving parts of the presentation and watch the replays. Is it painful to watch and listen to yourself? Yes, but that's what people see. Be objectively honest with yourself. Is your voice coming across loud and clear? Are you keeping good audience contact with the camera? Are you stuttering and stammering, and throwing in a whole lot of Ums and Uhs?
- Make Adjustments - Now that you see what others will see, make adjustments. Some areas may require minor tweaks and revisions; other areas you may find that you have to throw out and start over again.
- Practice Like Your Going to Play - Now we get to the point where visualization and muscle memory come into play. Your presentation has been carefully assembled, you’ve adjusted and improved your presentation skills, and the message you want to convey flows smoothly. Practice the presentation over and over again, ideally in the location where you will be giving it live.
Picture the audience, how confidently you start out with your opening remarks, and everyone applauding at the end and giving you what you asked for. Visualize how you will deal with questions when they come up, or even if something goes wrong and you lose your place. Think through all the scenarios you are likely to encounter and come up with prepared responses.
Ask a trusted coworker, boss, mentor, or coach to sit through some of these practice sessions and provide their honest feedback. Like watching yourself on video, it’s painful to hear the feedback from others. But, now is the time to hear it while you can do something about it, rather than customers and executives later thinking how poorly something came across in your presentation.
- Play the Game - Game Day has finally arrived! You have done everything you can possibly do to make sure this presentation is a success, and minimize the nerves. When it’s your turn to present, reflect on all the practice sessions you’ve put in, the adjustments made, and let muscle memory take over. This meeting is sure to be another slam dunk!
It’s surprising how many people will start with Step 1- Knowing the Rules and jump to Step 5 - Playing the Game. They throw a presentation together at the last minute and do not practice, revise, or improve before they step onto the court. It’s Steps 2, 3, and 4 that make the difference between a professional and an amateur. Don’t leave these out!
One final suggestion if you want to practice presenting like you are going to play: listen to the Great Practices podcast How to Communicate with Executives with Rob Milstead on The PMO Leader site. You’ll learn about how much time you should spend preparing for meetings with Executives, and a framework that will make every meeting effective.
The above principles can apply to any area of your project management position. It could be creating a project plan or actionable report, or implementing the solution on a client’s site. Know the basics, zero in on areas that need special attention, receive feedback, make adjustments and then perform like a superstar. You may not make as much as Michael Jordan, but performing at the top of your project management game will make you feel like a million bucks!