Biathlon competitions are often on the TV in our house during the winter months – we have a healthy respect for the skill and prowess of these athletes.

Demanding the endurance of cross-country skiing and precision of expert marksmanship, the biathlon is deserving of its reputation as one of the most difficult sports in the world.

These athletes can somehow regulate their heart rate with seemingly superhuman skill.

Going from an approx. max. heart rate of 90% (while cross-country skiing) to as low as 61 – 73% max. heart rate (to position and shoot targets) in 50-60 seconds is a remarkable skill.

Then, it occurred to me – calming a racing heart is analogous to calming nerves… and mastering that skill would be beneficial in countless situations, notably – in preparing to speak in front of others.

My interest piqued.  How do they do it?

In my research, I came across one particularly interesting possible answer to this question*:

Something called “Prospective Control”.

“Prospective Control” is the use of “perceptual predictive information to prepare the body for challenges that lie ahead.”

My interpretation in non-scientific language:

  • taking in situational cues gives your body – and your brain – a head start in adjusting to upcoming stressors; AND
  • this head start actually REDUCES a person’s heart rate in a high stress situation.


From where I’m sitting, this looks like a powerful tool to take back some control and reduce those darned cortisol levels…

Applying this in the speaking context?  To me, this looks like:

  • Being present and observing other people – get out of your head and people watch (AKA – read the room)

Seemingly obvious – but we’re all guilty (myself included) – of getting stuck in our heads, which is not only counterproductive in its own right, but also gives our nerves the upper-hand.

I will be investigating this technique more, as any tool that helps me maintain control, composure and put my best foot forward is a valuable tool in my book.

Lauren Marlow

Lauren is a dedicated coach and advisor for Speechworks’ clients. Her 20 years of experience as a practicing corporate and tax attorney allows her to help clients refine their communication skills and clearly convey content for a variety of scenarios, including condensing complicated information into simple and digestible talking points, presenting to boards, running meetings, self-advocating, making a pitch and handling impromptu speaking requests when there is little to no time to prepare.