Many athletes do it. So do singers and surgeons, CEOs and sales reps, scientists and students. They find that creating mental images of themselves in action—whether hitting a high note, suturing a heart into a chest cavity, or delivering a presentation—helps them achieve the performance they desire. They visualize success, often moment-by-moment but always in detail. It may well be, as business maven Estée Lauder said, that "Projecting your mind into a successful situation is the most powerful means to achieve goals."
A successful situation cannot easily be imagined because it's abstract, and what is abstract is by definition intangible and conceptual. Projecting your mind into a successful situation requires first that you define that situation, break it into its parts, become aware of the elements of which it is composed. For a presentation, those elements may include speaking confidently, staying on message, using your physical presence emphatically. Identify the components of success for you and imagine their smooth execution. "Imagination is everything," Albert Einstein said. "It is the preview of life's coming attractions." Imagine yourself undertaking the actions you have identified, performing them well and achieving them to your satisfaction. That's a preview of your presentation, one that helps you attain its success.
Imagine in detail; imagine with all your senses. Invent visual images of yourself—what you are wearing and how you are standing, the flicker of expressions on your face and the movement of your arms as you gesture. Feel those movements, too, the reach of your arm toward a screen or of a smile as it spreads across your face and into your eyes. Hear the click of the remote as you change slides, the varied resonance of your voice as it emphasizes, the small silence of a pause. Absorb yourself in these mental images, each of them representing an element of the success you have defined.
Inventing these images and developing an ability to focus on them may take practice; they are concrete and specific, a material world away from just repeating a mantra such as "I will succeed." They put you in the moment, and each moment you envision primes you for control and the success it engenders. Swimmer Gordon Pugh places himself in many such moments: "When I'm preparing for a swim, I imagine absolutely everything about it: the color of the water, how cold it is, the taste of salt in my mouth. I visualize each and every stroke. For the Antarctic swim, I knew I'd be in the water for about 30 minutes, and I can't tell you how many times I imagined those minutes, right down to every iceberg I would swim past."
Imagine only the positive—not a tailspin into a panic, for instance, but a smooth recovery from one. See yourself walking to the lectern with purposeful grace. Hear yourself take up each point and support it well. Feel the strength of engagement with your audience as you shift eye focus from one of its members to another. Mental imagery not only allows you to accentuate the positive but to reinforce it cognitively, to accustom your brain to the actions that underlie success. "Visualization lets you concentrate on all the positive aspects of your game," golfer Curtis Strange noted.
Although even the most concrete visualization of success won't automatically transport you and your presentation into the realm of triumph, combined with solid preparation and effective rehearsal, the mental pictures you conjure may help you find your way there. It's a momentous discovery.