How To Prepare For The Biggest Meeting Of Your Life
May 17, 2016
by Dan Solin
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You are about to present a proposal to the investment committee of a $50 million 401(k) plan. The committee is interviewing a number of advisors. You’ve spent weeks preparing for this meeting. Now the big moment has arrived. As you stride into the building where the meeting will be held, you can feel your heart racing. Your palms are sweaty. You can’t stop thinking about how significant winning this business would be.
Should you try to calm down?
The correct answer to this question is counterintuitive and will have profound implications on your ability to offer a persuasive presentation.
Colleagues, family and friends have weighed in with advice. You can distill it to those two words: Calm down. Some have suggested that you “relax” by “breathing deeply” and “thinking positively.” You are trying to follow their well-intentioned advice, but anxiety is overwhelming you. You are consumed with all the things that could go wrong. What if you’re asked a question you can’t answer? Will you be able to justify your fees? What if you are asked how many similar plans your firm advises? This last point is particularly troublesome because this plan – if you get it – would be the largest one your firm has ever landed.
A study suggests that advice universally accepted as prudent – to calm down and relax before undertaking an anxiety-inducing activity – might be wrong and even counterproductive.
The study, by Alison Wood Brooks, Ph.D., of the Harvard Business School, found that telling oneself to get excited, rather than to relax, improved performance in high-stress activities.
The study incorporated a series of experiments designed to invoke anxiety, including preparing a persuasive public speech, taking a difficult math test and singing a rock song on a video game console.
In each experiment, the participants were told to say either “I am excited” or “I am calm” before engaging in the assignment.
Participants who said they were excited before giving a speech gave longer speeches that were judged to be “more persuasive, competent and relaxed” than the participants who said they were calm.
Participants who read the phrase “try to get more excited” scored 8% higher on the math test than those who read the phrase “try to remain calm.” They also reported feeling more confident of their math skills.
Participants in the karaoke experiment who were told to feel excited scored higher on pitch, rhythm and volume than those who were told to feel calm, angry or sad. The “excited” participants also reported more confidence in their singing prowess.