Pre-Game and The-Game

In the past five years, I’ve had the chance to watch many exceptional performers do their work. Three in particular are aligning in my head right now because they all had something in common: a pre-game ritual.

Example: Pre-game ritual # 1:

I remember the time I was invited to a significant meeting with my boss. Since the meeting was about a mile from my office, I left early and figured I would go to the room before the meeting and answer some emails. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that my boss was already in the room . . . and he was standing in the middle, just sort of looking around.

For the next few minutes, he moved tables around (declining my offer of help) until the room was exactly the way he wanted it. He did this in a suit, which made his actions look rather incongruous.

Participating in the meeting, I realized that the room’s organization was the perfect complement to the meeting’s agenda and flow. Everything seemed easy and natural, and I countered that, in my mind, with the picture of a man in a suit moving tables. In complex institutions, lots of things happen by accident . . . and some don’t.

Example: Pre-game ritual # 2 and #3

I also remember the times when I was facilitating a speaking event for two speakers, both of whom are world renowned entertainers. In both cases, the exact same thing happened. The speakers arrived and went through a sound check of sorts. They asked a few questions. They sipped some water. They made small talk. And then, seemingly mid-sip or mid-sentence, they disappeared.

As the crowd built in the auditorium, in both cases, I heard a nervous chatter backstage. People were looking for the speakers. “Where could they be?” “Did we lose them?”

Pitching in to help, I found both speakers (two years apart) in the exact same place. They were backstage, in a dimly lit corner, sitting in a chair (the only chair they could find). And they both seemed to be meditating. They were just sitting back there, eyes closed, breathing deliberately, seemingly uninterruptible.

I waited as long as I could to call their names, and when I did, they opened their eyes, rose to their feet, and in the dozen steps it took to walk from “sanctuary” to stage, they went from literal zero to literal sixty. They went from total calm to uncontainable energy, connecting with our audience in a way I have rarely seen before.

After my second experience with this transformation, I asked an actor-friend if he knew what was happening backstage. Was this just a coincidence, or was this a technique?

If the topic is important, then a [true professional] will psych himself [or herself] up for it. Every opportunity to talk is an opportunity to sell your ideas, so you’ve got to give the audience [a high] level of energy and enthusiasm, and that definitely requires some self-talk. That energy will lift you vocally, focus you physically, and pull the audience in. It’s all about mental prep, I think. 


Three of the best of the best; two clear pre-game rituals; zero coincidence.

What’s your pre-game ritual? What’s the one thing you can do to lift and focus the activity that is most useful to your success? What’s the one thing you can do to pull in your audience and contribute meaning and delight to their work / day / life?

And, before you can answer those questions, I’d add: What’s your game? Not, What’s your job, but, What’s the thing that you do that makes the biggest impact on your work and your audience’s reception of your work, and are you preparing appropriately — with enough focus and intensity — for that moment, that meeting, that event?

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