Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

How to get ready for your next big speech or meeting – according to science

Physiologist and exercise medicine researcher at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, author of Superbodies and The Ripple Effect.

The skill of communication in the era of social media, leading without a title and brand awareness has never been more important. Steve Jobs knew how important a speech can be. He practised for days before presentations. More recently, Elon Musk has delivered presentations for Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity initiatives. These talks have led to the exponential growth of his companies and, possibly, a different future for humanity.

Despite the importance of communication (or maybe because of it), public speaking remains one of our greatest fears. Jerry Seinfeld said once that an average person at a funeral prefers to be in the casket than give the eulogy.

Story continues below advertisement

I don't think it has to be that way. If you apply the science of human performance, you can improve your ability to deliver powerful messages, and improve your mental and physical health at the same time. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Prepare relentlessly

When I was asked in 2010 to be the on-air sport science analyst for the Vancouver Olympics, I had almost no TV experience. Before the Games started, I asked other commentators how to prepare. The best answer I received? "Relentlessly." As a result, I made it a rule to rehearse my segments until I could perform them at least 10 times in a row with no mistakes. This translated into three to four hours of practice for a single three to four minute segment.

Bart Egnal, president and CEO of the leadership communication firm the Humphrey Group, says that great speakers deliver their presentations many times before the actual event. He also recommends recording a video of yourself and reviewing it to discover how you can improve your delivery.

Preparation is a key factor for elevating your confidence for the stage, camera or meeting room and performing with more positive energy and relaxation.

Tip #2: Get a great sleep

Research is clear that we need seven to eight hours of sleep to be our healthiest and have the lowest risk of disease. Interestingly, we need the same amount to perform at our best.

Story continues below advertisement

We encode memories when we sleep, so if you want all that rehearsing to stick, sleeping will make it happen. Sleep also improves creativity and problem solving. To come up with new solutions to old problems or to answer tough questions with clarity and insight, make sleep a priority.

The night before a big presentation or meeting, make sure you defend your last hour before sleep. Turn off your computer, put away your phone, stretch for a few minutes, take a hot bath with Epsom salts, meditate and read some fiction to get your mind off your work. Defending your last hour is a powerful technique for improving sleep, performance and, ultimately, your health.

Tip #3: Eat to perform

High performers know that the way they eat has a direct effect on how well they think. Brains are incredible organs that can integrate senses with feelings, transfer experiences into long-term memory, and learn and create new connections to support complex thought and reasoning. Nutrition can either improve or hinder those mental performances.

To give yourself the best possible chance of delivering a great speech, adopt a few key nutritional strategies:

1. Compared to their well-hydrated peers, dehydrated subjects in a study exerted a higher level of neuronal activity in order to achieve the same performance level. To perform at your best with the least amount of effort, get and stay hydrated. Always take a water bottle to meetings or presentations.

Story continues below advertisement

2. Use caffeine as a tool, not a crutch. The peak benefits of caffeine are reached 30-60 minutes after ingestion, so time your tea or coffee to boost your performance.

3. Have a small meal with healthy carbohydrates (slow-digesting carbs packed full of nutrients and fibre), lean protein (lentils, legumes, quinoa, organic meat) and healthy fats (cold-water fatty wild fish, nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut) about 90-120 minutes before your event. Avoid simple carbohydrates (the white stuff) as much as possible. My go-to meal before speaking is wild salmon, steamed spinach with olive oil, and quinoa.

4. Have a micro-snack about 15 minutes before go time. I use nuts and blueberries for this as they provide some healthy fats, fibre and slow-digesting sugars for energy during the presentation.

Tip #4: Activate the mind-body connection

When I read his biography, I noticed that Steve Jobs conducted his meetings while walking around the Apple campus. If Jobs took people for a walk, they were more creative, had better energy and thought more clearly. Turns out Jobs's experience is backed up by the research. Scientists at Stanford University found that walking boosts creative inspiration and that creative output can be increased by an average of 60 per cent. You can do this as well. As little as five minutes of exercise improves mental performance. Go for a walk before that presentation. Do a few flights of stairs. If you need to solve a problem, move your body, stretch or lift some weights in the hour before you tackle the challenge.

Applying the science of human performance can improve your ability to deliver powerful messages effectively and enhance your mental and physical health at the same time. Try these protocols before your next critical meeting or presentation. Let me know how it worked for you via my website www.drgregwells.com, on Twitter @drgregwells or on LinkedIn.

Video: Talking Management: Why corporate social responsibility doesn't help a company (Special to Globe and Mail Update)
Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.