“You have to smell it. You have to hear it. You have to feel it…everything.” … Emily Cook, a U.S. freestyle aerials Olympian, on the importance of using imagery mind training to her Olympic success.

When professional athletes prepare for an event like the Super Bowl or the Olympics, most are utilizing a powerful technique called imagery mind training. Describing survey results of athletes and Coaches at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, for thesportinmind.com, Ryan Mallet reports “One hundred percent of the Coaches and 97% of the athletes surveyed agreed imagery DOES enhance performance.”  Prior to giving a presentation, you can prepare using this technique too! 

How can you harness the power of imagery to become a more competent and confident speaker?

Own the space

If you are familiar with the physical space in which you will present, you can imagine yourself feeling calm and prepared, walking into the room or up to the stage and approaching the podium or table, etc. Next, picture yourself looking directly out at the audience and pausing for a moment to “acknowledge” them with your gaze, before beginning to speak. Add any sensory elements with which you are familiar. What is the size of the room?  What are some physical features? Colors? Air temperature? Sounds? Imagine the chatter of the crowd or applause as you enter, and then imagine the relative silence as you take your place in front of them.

Deliver your content with confidence

Now, imagine delivering your opening paragraph.  What visual imagery can you use to enliven your delivery and inspire your audience?  Remember this technique can be applied to any speech or presentation you will need to give.

Last June, Casey Gerald gave the commencement speech at Harvard Business School in front of his 900 fellow graduating MBAs with “surprising poise and self-confidence.” Described as “the most inspiring and stirring speech we have ever seen given by a graduating MBA,” by John Byrne in poetsandquants.com, the speech quickly went viral.

Here’s a small sampling of his very well-delivered words: “After all the miles and the memories of the last two years, now I see the biggest sign of hope: You, my friends, my fellow graduates, not because of what we have done, but because I know we have more work to do. In your hands as well as mine lies the hope for a new generation of business leaders in which each of us becomes a pioneer, in which each of us commits our time and talent not just to the treasures of today, but to the frontier of tomorrow where new dreams and new hopes and new possibilities are waiting.”

How to create imagery for your speech

If you were going to deliver these lines, you might begin with a vivid mental picture of one your fondest college memories, possibly a post-finals gathering of college friends, laughing and talking animatedly during a shared meal. You would conjure up the scene using specific colors, sounds, smells or tastes, holding this image in your mind very briefly, before you begin to speak. Remember, this is your preparation to be used just prior to your speech.  It will serve to make you more confident and enhance your mood and delivery.  Now you begin to speak.  Once you get to “the biggest sign of hope:  you…” you need to be fully present in the moment as your gaze focuses on people in the auditorium.  As you go on to pursue your point about “business pioneers of the future,” you might create for yourself an image of a particular job or business leader who inspires you to want to succeed despite any obstacles. Again, utilize any sensory imagery that inspires and affects you because when you are enthusiastic, your audience will be too.

Benefits of using imagery mind training

This technique can help to free you from the type of nerves that impair your ability to give your best.  The key to making it work for you is using the imagery that you find inspiring, and then practicing so it becomes second nature to quickly access the image, sound, or other element in your mind.  Practicing will create confidence, ease and great delivery!

Laurel Weber Snyder is a public speaking, media and job interview skills coach. Follow Laurel on Twitter @wellspokencoach