As many of the Olympians are arriving home after their Olympic medal-winning performances it's reminded me of how I learned to deal with the pressure of making one of my first speeches. Still to this day, it was one of the most important presentations I've ever made, because it was made to my family, friends and hometown supporters. The preparation for this speech taught me a great deal about dealing with pressure and unknowingly primed me for an incredible career as a motivational speaker.
I had never been more nervous about making a speech than I was at my hometown parade after my Olympic win in 1998. My hometown honored me with my very own "Nikki Stone Day." My old high school was filled with family, friends and teachers, and a townful of supporters. It was the first time I was given the opportunity to publicly thank all those people who had supported me along the way. I didn't realize how much pressure I would feel or how emotional I'd become. At the first "thank you" I uttered, the tears began to flow and my mind went completely blank.
Knowing how much these acknowledgments meant to me, I didn't want to forget to thank anyone, so I had put in a full day of additional speech practice. Despite the pressure of the moment, I felt confident that I could get through the presentation because of all the preparation I'd put in. Without a pause, the names came pouring out of my mouth. Not one person was forgotten, and I walked away having learned the best secret for combating pressures: practice.
People often lack confidence when it's most important: in the heat of a critical moment, when the adrenaline is really pumping. It's much easier to demonstrate self-assurance when the pressure isn't on. Ask yourself if you have what it takes to perform when you're in a truly stressful situation. How many dry runs have you been through to ensure a resounding yes to that question? If something is important enough to be nervous about, then it's important enough to rehearse repeatedly. Before your next nerve-racking event, try rehearsing your performance three to five more times than you normally would.