Summer Reading Series: Emotional Agility by Susan David, Ph.D.

Emotional Agility by Susan David, PhD“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. Just when I think I’ve mastered it, I forget it and must learn it again. 

This idea is very empowering and certainly worth remembering! Even if you can’t change a situation, you can change the way you feel and respond. However, there are many times when our 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 get in the way of your achieving results. One strategy to productively respond to difficult situations is to become 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 her advice also applies to improving the outcomes of business presentations.

Here’s my take on how being emotionally agile can enhance your public speaking skills.

4 Steps to Achieve Agility in Your Communications

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 stepping out opens possibilities and helps us to see things from another’s point of view. This perspective is invaluable 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.

Learn more: The One Thing You Must Do to Be Successful When You Speak

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 emotional 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

Overall, David’s book is about living with more intention to achieve what you want from life. When it comes to achieving what you want in business, her advice really resonated with me. How about you? Which tips have you found most useful? Post your thoughts about this book on our Facebook page!