6 Effective Ways to Prepare for Your Big Moment

You’ve got a big moment ahead of you, whether it’s a presentation, a performance, or a pitch. You want to own it, but your jitters are threatening to own you. What to do? This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 6 things to do before a big moment (besides power pose in a bathroom stall).

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #152

A big moment is a big deal, whether you’re a seventh-grader trying out for the school soccer team in front of your classmates or a Tenth Circuit judge trying out for a little ol’ promotion in front of the entire Senate Judiciary Committee. Whatever your big moment—an interview, a performance, a race—it’s the culmination of your hard work, time, and energy.

You know you’ve prepared. You know you’re ready. But your anxiety is making you feel like you just drank a tanker truck of espresso and you’re biting your nails like a woodchipper. You’ve been told to take a few deep breaths, but that feels about as effective as a parasol in a tornado.

What to do? This week, here are six strategies for your big moment besides “picture your audience in their underwear.”

Tip #1: Set a process goal rather than an outcome goal.

While it’s important to aim high, some goals are more intimidating than others. Approach a big moment with the mindset of “I only have one shot,” or “Ace this presentation or die,” and you’re pretty much guaranteed a one-way ticket to chokesville.

Instead of setting a goal based on only narrow parameters of achievement—”Get a million dollars of funding for my startup,” “Debut my novel on the bestseller lists,” set what’s called a process goal: evaluate yourself based on the journey, not the outcome.

An excellent process goal is: “Learn all I can.” For example, instead of “Make my new restaurant #1 in the city,” try the process goal of: “Learn all I can about launching a new restaurant.”

Another great process goal is to “share.” Share your knowledge, share your passion. For example, swap “Give a flawless presentation” for “Share what I know with energy and conviction.”

What does this do? It lessens the pressure, which frees you up to be more flexible and resilient, and ultimately do a better job than staying thumbscrewed to a narrow outcome goal. Indeed, any setbacks or challenges can be folded into your new goal—it’s all part of the process.

Tip #2: Picture what could go wrong.

You’ve undoubtedly been told to visualize your success, whether by conventional wisdom or the decidedly-not-evidence-based theories of The Secret.

But rather than simply visualizing landing the job or finishing the marathon, add a couple of steps. First, think through the benefits of achieving your goal. Why are you doing this? What do you stand to gain?

But then, also visualize the obstacles in your way, whether it’s technical difficulties with your microphone, getting heckled during your debut stand-up routine, or rolling your ankle at mile 23.

Why do this? A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that mere positive visualization can be counterproductive. It saps motivation and energy because your brain is fooled into thinking achieving your goal will be a piece of cake.

Instead, critical visualizations—imagining both positive and negative aspects of your big moment—keep you motivated, push you to prepare, and keep your energy high for the long haul.

Tip #3: Power pose, but in motion. 

Those of us not recently returned from Neptune have undoubtedly heard of power posing—holding an expansive, confident posture like Wonder Woman—before a big moment to increase confidence and presence.

But guess what? Power posing doesn’t have to be motionless. You can amp up your energy and mood while in motion as well. A study in the journal Biofeedback found that walking in a slouched position for two to three minutes subjectively drained energy levels, especially for those with pre-existing symptoms of depression. By contrast, skipping for two or three minutes created a subjective increase in energy levels.

You don’t have to skip down the hall at work (though that would be awesome), but do put a deliberate spring in your step, and watch your energy follow.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.