What the Spartan Sprint taught me about presenting

August 15, 2012

Laura after the Spartan SprintOn August 11, I participated in the Spartan Sprint, an obstacle course of a little more than three miles that test the limits of one’s endurance. The Sprint is the entry-level race, and if you survive that you can graduate to the Super Spartan, attempt the Spartan Beast, or really indulge your masochistic side in the charmingly named Death Race. But I digress.

The reason I entered is because at a community event in May one of my friends asked me if I wanted to join his team. At that point, I had become a real couch potato. I’d let my gym membership lapse and I had come up with all kinds of excuses about why I didn’t have any time to exercise. But something about the challenge sparked my interest, so after a moment’s hesitation I agreed.

Interestingly enough, I was able to draw some parallels between preparing for the Spartan Sprint and preparing to give a presentation. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Preparation is key. One of my teammates didn’t do much training at all. Needless to say, he was gasping the entire way. My training consisted primarily of jogging about ten miles a week with nothing done to increase my upper-body strength. So while I was great at the running part of the race, I failed on the obstacles that relied on supporting my own weight, such as the monkey bars and shinnying up a rope. As a presenter, if you haven’t practiced until you can deliver your presentation flawlessly, if you don’t get to the venue first to set up and be ready when the first attendees arrive, or if you don’t tailor your presentation to your audience, chances are you’ll flop.
  • If you need help, ask. At one point in the race I got separated from my group and was confronted with a six-foot wall. Although I could just touch the top by jumping, I couldn’t pull myself up. But on a couple of occasions, another racer laced his fingers together and gave me some much-needed boosts. To bring this back to presenting, I recently spoke with Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion, and asked his advice about how to respond to a client’s request to record my Cheating Death by PowerPoint presentation. I also posted the question on the LinkedIn group “Public Speaking Network.” I got a lot of great recommendations from everyone I asked, and they were all happy to help.
  • Expect the unexpected, and always have a Plan B. I knew there were many obstacles in the race, but these were all hidden from view of the start and finish lines. The race planners anticipated that not every racer would successfully complete every obstacle, so the penalty for failure or not trying at all was 30 burpees per failure/avoidance. If you’re presenting and the power goes out, would you still be able to perform even without your PowerPoint deck? If somebody asks you a question you can’t answer, what do you say? Get your Plan B together.
  • Dive in. I barely had to think about it when I was invited to participate. At the time I knew there’d be a lot of hard work to prepare for the race and that I’d have to radically change my routine to make it happen. But I jumped into the unknown and came out of it a better person. Same as you when you’re presenting. Don’t show any hesitation or signs that you are nervous about getting started. If you know your topic, it will come naturally if you take the first step and just start talking.

Take a chance, explore the unknown, and ask for help when you need it. Sometimes the limits to your abilities are just in your head, and when the rubber meets the road, you’ll find that you really shine.


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