It was October 2015, and this day was going to be one of the most embarrassing of my career. I was still an employee at Google and I was running a one-day meeting with all the European CEOs of my agency client.
I had organized the whole thing, coordinated the speakers, and I was a host and a speaker myself. My manager and my whole team were coming from the US to London for the event. The President of our organization happened to also be in London that week and I had secured him as a keynote speaker. I was excited!
At the time, I had a small baby. Before the big day, I did not sleep at all – a combination of baby duties and stress. Everything was going smoothly at the event, until the moment I stood up to introduce our president. As I started doing that, my mind went blank. I was not sure about his surname. I had worked with another colleague that week who shared the same first name, and I felt I was mixing up their surnames.
So I said the president’s first name and then I took a long (well, it seemed like a century to me) pause while trying to think. I decided not to take the risk of saying the wrong surname, so I said nothing. I awkwardly asked the president to come to the stage. Embarrassed, I sat down.
Sleep deprivation impairs memory and cognitive performance. I had put all this work into that meeting, but because I had neglected my self-care, I failed to perform in the way I wanted. If you are to hold successful meetings, you need to take care of yourself first.
You want to walk into the meeting feeling energetic, confident, centred. How you show up will have a tremendous impact on how good a job you will do. Good energy is contagious. And we also know that positivity boosts creativity and performance. By taking care of yourself first, you take care of your participants and your meeting.
Here are some tips on how to best put yourself into a positive state for your meeting.
Take care of your body
Sleep, hydrate, eat healthy food and move. We underestimate how taking care of our body influences our cognitive and social performance. Prioritizing your well-being can have more impact on the success of your meeting than a few extra hours of preparation.
Take care of your mind
Nerves are normal in big meetings, but they can sabotage you. We tend to want to get away from overwhelmed people. Exactly when you need people to connect with you, your nervousness can push them away. Think about how difficult it is to laugh at the jokes of a stand-up comedian who looks nervous, even if the jokes are good.
However, pushing away or ignoring your fear is not the solution. You are better off acknowledging it and allowing it to exist. Take a pause before your meeting and recognize your feelings.
Try to investigate the sensations they cause in your body. Where in your body do you feel the fear and anxiety? What does that part of you need? Maybe some encouragement? Maybe a reminder that, whatever happens in the meeting, you will be OK?
It is important to support your mental well-being before your meeting. You can put on inspiring music. Maybe watch an empowering video. Meditation or a relaxing podcast can help. Visualize yourself doing a great job at your meeting. Try to get in contact with nature. A walk in the park to breathe fresh air before the meeting starts will help.
When my daughter went to a new school, I would give her a small toy to put in her pocket and tell her that I had poured my love into it. Whenever she felt lonely or scared, she could touch it and feel my love. This worked, and now she has started doing the same with me when I have important meetings.
She gives me a small toy for ‘luck’. The toy has a similar effect on me as it had for my daughter. If there is a difficult point in the meeting, I can look at the toy or touch it and immediately remember my daughter’s love. I have since found out that oxytocin, the hormone of love, can help alleviate anxiety. So, too, does focusing on your senses.
You can develop some tricks to keep yourself grounded when you are too nervous or emotional in your meetings. Use an artefact or an image as an anchor, like I do. Alternatively, bring your attention into your body, feel your breathing, or your feet touching the floor. After having taken care of your body and mind, you will then be ready to connect with others.