“You can’t change other people; you can only change yourself” is one of those lessons I’ve had to learn over and over again. And then sometimes I forget it and must learn it again.
This idea is very empowering! If you can’t change a situation, you can change the way you feel and the way you respond.
However, there are many times when our own emotions get in the way of achieving success. This is particularly true with public speaking. Allowing negative thoughts and feelings to take over can undermine your confidence and result in a poor delivery. One strategy for avoiding that problem is becoming emotionally agile.
Susan David’s book "Emotional Agility" defines the concept as “being flexible with your thoughts and feelings so you can respond optimally to everyday situations.” In her book, David shows us how to come to terms with even the most difficult emotions to enhance relationships, achieve goals and live life to the fullest. I found that her advice also applies to improving the outcomes of your business presentations.
Here’s my take on enhancing your public speaking performance by being emotional agile.
Step 1: Show up
“Showing up” is about acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, and that takes guts! David suggests approaching them with curiosity, accepting the difficult and positive thoughts equally and seeing them as information, not as facts or directives.
This step is vital when it comes to putting your best foot forward as a presenter. When you want to impress an audience, you may find yourself feeling doubts and wishing you had the style of another speaker you admire. Go ahead and acknowledge those feelings, but don’t let them influence your actions.
When I was 13 years old, my dad taught me that comparing myself to others was a sure-fire way to be miserable; there would always be someone smarter, prettier or better off than I. Realize that the more you embrace your own unique style, the better you will connect with your listeners.
Learn more: "3 Lessons to Becoming a Better Speaker"
Step 2: Step out
The next step is understanding that your emotions don’t need to define who you are. “Stepping out” means creating detachment by separating the thinker from the thought and the feeler from the feeling. Doing so broadens your perspective, and according to David, “is a key factor in our ability to self-reflect.”
I found this concept particularly exciting, because for me stepping out opens possibilities and helps us to see things from another’s point of view. This perspective is valuable when developing a message to share. Your thoughts and ideas will resonate with your listeners when you allow yourself to see the topic from their perspective and deliver it in a way that is meaningful to them.
Step 3: Walk the why
David’s concept of “walking your why” is about embracing your core values and using them to guide your actions and decision-making. “By knowing who you are and what you stand for,” says David, “you come to life’s choices with the most powerful tool of all: your full self.”
Approaching your presentation opportunities with your full and authentic self is just as beneficial. When David talked about “social contagion” or our tendency to “catch” behaviors from others, I realized how prevalent this tendency is among business leaders—doing something just because everyone else does it. The fact is, walking someone else’s walk won’t help you make an impact.
For your next presentation, resist the temptation to throw together a slide deck and wing it because that’s the way it’s done. Instead, step back and ask yourself, “How can I talk about this in a way that will make sense and feel relevant to this audience?”
Understanding the why behind what you are saying cultivates emotionally agility allowing you to achieve results.
Step 4: Move on
Making big changes always requires many small steps. That’s the idea behind David’s concept of “moving on:” making small, deliberate tweaks to your mindset, motivation and habits to ensure they are aligned with your core values. These tweaks add up to “profound, lasting change over the course of our lives.”
The notion of making small changes to achieve big results is not new; those of you who have read Amy Cuddy’s book "Presence" will find it familiar. David takes the idea a further by challenging us to get out of our comfort zone without becoming overwhelmed by taking on too much change all at once.
David’s advice aligns with my experience in coaching business leaders to become better speakers. I always urge my clients to change one thing at a time to take their presentation skills to the next level. That one tweak has the effect of recalibrating the entire presentation and bringing everything else up a notch.
Learn more: "Summer Reading Series: 'Presence' by Amy Cuddy"
Applying these four steps to your business presentations helps you gain perspective and focus on what’s important, both to you and your audience. Although achieving emotional agility is a long-term process, remember that applying small, incremental changes one at a time will your results and motivate you to keep working at it.
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.
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