Tennis – For One
There is an interesting book relating to performance called The Inner Game of Tennis. Some of you may be familiar with it. I think it is highly relevant to public speaking.
The idea of the book is that we can think of ourselves, as performers, as having 2 selves. One focused on doing the task and the other on monitoring the progress. The latter actually mostly judges and criticises what is happening.
Ideally we would spend all our attention, energy and dedication to the first one and not pay attention to the second one.
The second one, the critic, feeds on “should”, “ought to”, “need”. Those, in turn, are given importance by the context, expectations of ourselves or by an upset. In the book, in the context of tennis, the first one would focus on hitting the ball, and the other on judging whether we did that well or not, fed by what it means, like if we are going to lose the set or the match, or overtaken if we think our ball was not over the line and the empire got it completely wrong. We are victim of injustice! Ego goes berserk.
In the context of Toastmasters, I once remember a member getting angry and frustrated by the lectern that was collapsing when he leaned on it. That incident threw him and unexpectedly, he was not his smooth self and didn’t win the best speaker.
Recently, I was reserve speaker. When it came to the prepared speeches part, I could not see the speaker next due to speak, and thought “oh my God, I am on!” So I scrambled to my speech notes and tried to remember the structure, whilst listening to what whoever was performing was saying or clapping and paying attention to the order of things.
I was fine with going to the stage and speaking, but I wasn’t with trying to get my ideas in the right order.
When it happens, it can take all the energy and attention.
For instance, when asked to talk about a table topic and not knowing what to say next, the realisation of that reduces creativity to zero and the system has a seazure. Blank…
One of the best way to deal with that is to come back to the here and now, rather than trying to pursue the wrong path. “Oops, blank!” “What was I saying?” “In fact the previous topic was more interesting…”.
The mind and body are parts of the same system, so if the mind gets stuck, restart it with the help of the body. Breathe, or walk around, or shock the system: laugh! laughter is the equivalent of using a defibrillator!
Experience also helps to prepare for it. When you conclude that it is not a bad thing to get stuck or stress, you diminish the intensity. In the same way that hitting the net when you practise tennis is part of training. You put more energy again on self 1, the performer, rather than self 2, the critic.
Patrick Baron is a psychotherapist, counsellor and coach, based near Holland Park. He specialises in treating depression, addiction and birth anxiety in expecting mothers (and fathers).