I do not follow professional tennis at all during the year, but I watch the U.S. Open tournament every single August/September. I do love tennis and played enough to be an appreciative spectator. I also believe that the Open functions like a transitional object for me. The days and hours I spend laying in front of the television watching superior, glistening athletes helps me transition from the end of summer blues to back to school, back to work, back to September. I literally have more energy when the tournament is over.
John McEnroe (ex-husband of Tatum O’Neal) is very often a T.V. commentator for the men’s tennis. He always has a lot to say. As a past tennis champion, he is often projecting what he believes is going on in the heads of the players. I love it. Though naturally, being John McEnroe, his thoughts are often dark, competitive, worst-case scenario, something along the lines of ”Player X thinks his opponent’s limping is a ploy to get crowd sympathy right now!” Why not? We wonder the same! I am always drawn to “What Were They Thinking? ” photo journalist columns, so having a live commentator taking us into the head of a player is fascinating, even if not necessarily accurate.
Chris Evert (ex fiancé of Jimmy Connors in the 1970’s…that was fairytale fun) was a commentator for many women’s matches this year. She also brings the players’ perspective to the screen. In the semifinal match between #1 seeded Wozniacki and Petkovic, she talked about the slump Woznaicki was in that had her down several games in the set. Watching her downward spiral, Evert talked about how important self-talk is at these moments. She spoke about what would go through her own mind on the courts and how she consciously had to shake herself first to physical action: “Move your body! Run in place! Jump up and down!” Physical action snapped her head back into the game.
What struck me here was the universal issue of strategic self-talk. When a downward spiral occurs, noticing and managing the physical action is the first line of defense. I believe this analogy suits public speakers. Even though there are no points or games in a presentation, there is an energetic element of feeling that we are “on” or “winning” the presentation with our engaged, receptive, connected audience. If we sense a shift and lose resonance with our audience the first thing to do is 1) acknowledge it right away 2) focus on the physical; connect to breath, move your hands and your feet 3) tune in to your audience; maybe it’s time to check in with a question or ask for some feedback about what you just said. The only real mistake you can make is to not change-up your game.