Got a High Stakes Meeting? Channel Your Inner Drag Racer

Do you find yourself heading into a conference room, knowing that thousands -- perhaps millions -- of dollars are riding on how you perform in there? It's a challenge many of us face on a regular basis, and yet business school doesn't teach it as clearly as they do supply and demand and macroeconomics.
08/01/2016 12:23 pm ET Updated Aug 02, 2017

Do you find yourself heading into a conference room, knowing that thousands -- perhaps millions -- of dollars are riding on how you perform in there? It's a challenge many of us face on a regular basis, and yet business school doesn't teach it as clearly as they do supply and demand and macroeconomics.

Enter Alexis DeJoria for today's lesson.

That's right: to teach you how to crush your next high stakes meeting, we are turning to none other than NHRA drag racer Alexis DeJoria. When you have to control a beast that rockets down the quarter-mile track in four seconds with a top speed of more than 300 mph, you need to know how to perform in high stakes situations. When you have sponsorship dollars, prize dollars, and personal pride riding on four seconds, you need to know how to focus. Throw in the fact that she's one of the only women in NHRA and thus has double the scrutiny of an average driver, and you have someone who knows how to get it done under immense pressure.

How does she do it? And how can you use these lessons to help you in the boardroom? She gave an interview on The Unicorn in the Room and imparted some helpful wisdom. Let's examine her keys to how she performs under pressure:

State management:
One of the first things DeJoria focuses on when she's preparing to fly down the track is her emotional state. "A lot of breathing exercises," she said, which helps her remain calm and measured. It's totally normal to get nervous in high stakes situations. It's your body's way of rising to the challenge ahead. Don't fight it. Instead, channel it into razor sharp focus.

Visualization:
Next, DeJoria visualizes the race. By imagining a successful run, she can maintain focus on what she wants, instead of letting fear and doubt creep in. There's psychological merit to this approach. You tend to get what you focus on. Next time you're riding the elevator to the lobby or waiting in the conference room, imagine the best possible outcome of your meeting. If you focus on all the ways you could fail and all the little things that could go wrong, your brain will be more attuned to finding them. For example, don't think of pink elephants. You just thought of pink elephants. Case closed.

You could even extend this tactic out to rehearsing. Most people don't rehearse their presentations nearly enough. When you compare how Steve Jobs rehearsed for days and days in anticipation for his product keynotes and compare it to how often you rehearse presentations that are equally important to your career, you may need to make some adjustments.

Block out distractions:
"When I suit up and get in the race car, I have to shut the entire world out," DeJoria said. "I have to shut everyone out. I can't be thinking about what happened yesterday or even an hour ago or 20 minutes ago. I have to be very much in the moment to be able to succeed in this sport." Nothing could be truer for her, and it couldn't be truer for you, too. Maybe someone in the room is fidgeting with his pen. Maybe there's something distracting happening just outside the conference room. These things cannot exist to you. Phase them out and keep moving forward.

So there you have it -- lessons on how to perform in high stakes situations from someone who knows high stakes better than anyone. The more your can focus on managing your state, visualizing success, and blocking out distractions as they arise, the better you'll be able to perform when it's all on the line.