Focus On The Task
October 26, 2022
This was about two decades back. I was leading a specific project that required me to pitch it to a few key stakeholders. Once, I was asked to present an update on the project to the firm’s CEO. While I was usually placid and confident when presenting to senior management, I was extremely nervous getting into this particular presentation for some strange reason.
Even though I was on top of all my deliverables, it did not seem to matter. I felt utterly vulnerable and unsure. All kinds of catastrophizing went on in my head. What if I muck up the presentation? What if the CEO asks me some questions that I cannot answer, etc.?
As the presentation day neared, it felt like all my confidence was deserting me. No amount of preparation was helping, and I felt like a nervous wreck.
I realized that I needed help to get out of my predicament. So I reached out to my mentor to get some guidance. What must I do to feel more in control?
My mentor asked me a few questions to understand the context, and he quickly figured out the problem.
Instead of focusing on presenting an update on the project I was leading, I was unconsciously focusing on the potential upside of presenting to the CEO. If he liked my presentation, It could give my career trajectory a fillip. But, an unintended consequence of this line of thinking was I started developing a fear of losing the potentially lucrative upside- to the point that it began affecting my performance.
In normal situations, I was not worried when the stakes were low. However, when presenting to the CEO, my mind processed the stakes to be very high. And as the stakes became high, my performance was negatively impacted.
So, what was I supposed to do to recover my composure in time for the presentation to the CEO?
My mentor gave me some great advice that I have carried with me ever since.
The message you wish to convey is the same whether you present it to senior colleagues or the CEO. Focus on sharing your message instead of thinking about how it will positively or negatively impact their perception of you. The more you worry about the consequences, the less effective you will be in conveying your message.
The penny dropped for me. I was unnecessarily focusing on the wrong metric. Instead of worrying about how best to convey my message, I was worried about what the impact would be if I did not present my story well. I quickly changed my orientation. I stopped thinking about the outcome and focussed only on perfecting my pitch.
The D-day arrived, and I was my usual confident self. The presentation to my CEO went well, and I came out wiser.
Whatever the situation, my performance is impaired when I worry more about the outcome instead of focusing on the task at hand. So, today, I don’t let the result or consequence distract me. I just focus on the task.