How body language helps me to stay confident with 5 million people watching
Magdalena Neuner (28) is the most successful female athlete of all times at Biathlon World Championships and a two-time Olympic gold medallist. In our interview with her at the adidas World of Sports in Herzogenaurach, she reveals personal secrets regarding the right use of body language and explains how mental training can help you to be successful in your career.
Magdalena, in sports, nothing is handed to you on a plate. You have to earn it. How do you ‘take the moment’?
Magdalena: “As an athlete, I simply carry this instinct in me. I used to train every day in order to be able to reach my full potential at the decisive moment. When that decisive moment in competition comes, you realise immediately that this is the moment that counts, that you now have to fight and win. What I enjoyed the most, however, is being fully focussed during the competition with others and winning the title.”
As a biathlete, you have to perform at the very highest level at the shooting range in order to take gold. This is when mental strength plays a particularly important role. Our readers on LinkedIn, Twitter and the adidas Group blog include managers and entrepreneurs who fight for their ideas and projects in offices and conference rooms day in and day out. They are mostly under extreme pressure and have to defend their ideas vis-à-vis colleagues and their own bosses. What is your tip for our readers with a view to training mental strength and being successful?
Magdalena: “I didn’t simply rely on possessing this trait by nature, I worked hard on my mental strength. A mental coach helped me at a very early stage. Looking back, that was a very important contributor to my success, being able to handle a lot of pressure in difficult situations at Olympic Games and Biathlon World Championships. Along the way, I sometimes had 100 hours of mental coaching a year.
And even now, although I have finished my active career as an athlete, I still meet up with my mental coach when I need to prepare for situations in which I have to spontaneously find the right words or when I will be appearing as an expert in front of a large TV audience.”
As you mentioned, you’re in the media spotlight now as a popular TV host and biathlon expert. Up to 5 million viewers see you live on the screen. What role does body language play to help you stay confident when you speak in front of so many people?
Magdalena: “Unlike my mental training, which I undertook very intensively, I haven’t attended any media training or seminars to train my body language. Viewers in front of TV screens or work colleagues in a meeting room most definitely notice whether your behaviour is authentic or not. In order to convince others, you have to convey the enjoyment that you find in your own work. That’s not something professional coaching can help you with.
You just have to be yourself. Of course I, too, think up-front about the gestures I will make in front of the camera or how I will express myself. But the main thing for me is always to remain true to myself.”
You retired from your career at a young age, having won everything an athlete could dream of – what was your work-life balance like before and what is it like now?
Magdalena: “I learned a lot during my career as an active athlete. Good time management was always very valuable to me. Consciously switching off at home, without your thoughts constantly revolving around your last competition or your ‘job’, is good for you and definitely makes sense.
I still have a lot of business appointments today, and I have to prepare well. I have clearly defined time slots during the day when I take care of private and professional matters. Of course there will always be occasions when private and professional aspects intermingle, but as a general principle I can only recommend drawing a clear line between the two. That helps you to be successful.”