How To Write A Presentation When You’re Stressed

Many of the executives we work with carry a lot of stress throughout their daily lives.

Their stress makes sense. Some of the executives feel an unrelenting pressure to perform at work, others are responsible for thousands of peoples’ jobs, and a few haven’t seen their family or slept well for weeks.

So it’s no wonder that these executives aren’t in a great frame of mind when it comes time to put together an important presentation. And according to a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, their stress may be making things worse.

“Trying to make a big decision while you’re also preparing for a scary presentation? You might want to hold off on that. Feeling stressed changes how people weigh risk and reward…under stress, people pay more attention to the upside of a possible outcome.

Researchers have found that when people are put under stress—by being told to hold their hand in ice water for a few minutes, for example, or give a speech—they start paying more attention to positive information and discounting negative information. “Stress seems to help people learn from positive feedback and impairs their learning from negative feedback,” [study co-author Mara] Mather says.

This means when people under stress are making a difficult decision, they may pay more attention to the upsides of the alternatives they’re considering and less to the downsides.”

At times, the stress of a big decision and a big presentation are one in the same. When putting together a big presentation, executives often have to confront tough truths, kill product lines, consider layoffs, or explain sinking revenue numbers. That means their stress regarding those challenges could be leading them to make bad decisions.

It’s important to note that these findings may depend, at least in part, on gender. According to Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Emotion In The New Workplace:

“When men are under stress, their field of vision narrows. But when women are under stress, their field of vision expands.”

The authors of this new study concur:

“When men are under stress, they become even more willing to take risks; when women are stressed, they get more conservative about risk. Mather links this to other research that finds, at difficult times, men are inclined toward fight-or-flight responses, while women try to bond more and improve their relationships.”

So what should you do if you’re under stress when you’re writing a presentation? Kreamer suggests unplugging for a while. That’s good advice, according to one of my clients, an expert in stress and psychology. When you’re under stress, he advises, take a break and do something you love. If you enjoy cooking, prepare a meal. If you enjoy gardening, tend to your plants. If you enjoy working out, go for a run. Getting away from the stressful decisions, even if for just a few minutes, will help you expand your field of vision and make a better decision.

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