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Public Speaking Tips: Time To Reboot Your Brain?

by Ken Bradford

10 Steps To Reprogram Speaking Anxieties

Ever convince yourself of something that turned out not to be real? Ever overreact only to regret it later when things became clear? Maybe the problem is not caused by circumstance, but by poor brain circuitry.

Psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck is credited for identifying dysfunctional thinking patterns known as Cognitive Distortions. These are simply ways our mind convinces us of things that are not real or are blown out of proportion.

For instance, if you have stressed-out over a presentation or loss sleep the night before an interview, then you know what it’s like to experience “stinking thinking” and “setting yourself up for failure.”

The good news is, changing how our brains are wired is not that difficult. Progress begins the moment we recognize our habitual thinking, behavior, and emotional responses.

We can’t change what we are not aware of. By intentionally refuting the poor thinking forms and replacing them with more rational, balanced thinking these distortions will start to diminish.

Cognitive Distortions and Public Speaking

Do any of these sound familiar?

1. All or Nothing Thinking. You see yourself as a total failure if your performance falls short of perfect. Swap goals. Aim for progress not perfection.

2. Over-generalization. You benchmark a single negative experience as a never ending pattern of defeat. An embarrassing past incident foreshadows a future enactment.

3. Mental Filter. You focus on one particular detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the single drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water, or ocean.

For instance, you wanted the room setup differently from what you find when you arrive at the engagement.

4. Disqualifying the Positive. You reject positive experiences by insisting that they don’t count for some reason or the other.

This way you can maintain a negative viewpoint that is reinforced by your latest experience. This often sounds like one of the following phrases: “This didn’t count, because I knew most of you” or “I didn’t know most of you” or because “I didn’t have time to worry.”

5. Jumping to Conclusions. You make negative assumptions even though there are no definite facts to support it.

For example, you predict the future by saying phrases to yourself as ”They’ll probably hate me” or “They know far more about the matter than I do.” Look at it this way: Would they have asked you to speak if they already knew what you know?

6. Magnification or Minimization. You exaggerate the importance of things such as goofs, or missing data.

Or you shrink things out of proportion like your own knowledge, background and expertise. This is also called the binocular trick.

7. Emotional Reasoning. You assume that your gut feelings are always right. “I feel it, therefore it must be reality.”

For instance, you feel uncomfortable, therefore you shouldn’t try. This cognitive distortion is the inner voice saying things like, “Why learn to drive a car. It’s too difficult and nerve racking. I feel like staying home.” or “Forget that presentation today, you don’t feel just right.”

8. Should Statements. You try to motivate yourself with “should” and “shouldn’t,” as if you had to be flogged and punished before you could be expected to do anything right.

“Must” and “Ought To’s” are also offenders. Avoid “shoulding” on yourself and others. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.

9. Labeling. Instead of describing your error, you attach a permanent label to yourself. For example, “I can never remember names.” Or “I’m a klutz at public speaking.”

10. Personalization. You see yourself as responsible for some negative event that you did not cause. For example, you just start your presentation when you notice a person in the audience has a frown on their face.

With practice, you can learn to reprogram each of these cognitive distortions.

Ken Bradford, author of Fearless & Persuasive Speaking, A Communication Guide For Leaders, facilitates a nationwide leadership program for non-profit trade associations. Members nominate participants to attend the annual speaking training. www.
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