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Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's All In Your Head

Recently, we were asked to prepare a short presentation to develop our public speaking skills. While I knew we only had to speak for 3 minutes, I imagined that brief amount of time stretching into eternity--especially because we would be videotaped for posterity.

Thankfully, we were fortunate to have some prep by a wonderful expert on public speaking who joined us that day, Jezra Kaye. She supplied us with endless tips and tricks, such as the “instant speech” and a refreshing opinion that we keep our key message as simple and redundant as possible (otherwise it’s guaranteed no one will remember). Everything Jezra shared has already become so useful at my workplace.

As a perfect complement, an earlier Emerging Leaders session touched on cognitive distortions. These are the negative, habitual thought patterns that masquerade in our minds as average thoughts, yet cause us to see ourselves and the world imperfectly. It’s interesting to see how these impact both my professional and personal life. In hindsight, I can now see that two cognitive distortions caused me to unreasonably loathe the thought of public speaking. First, I experienced the distortion of All-or-Nothing Thinking (seeing things in black-or-white categories rather than in shades of grey), by immediately assuming I wouldn’t be as articulate as I hoped. Yet instead the feedback from the group showed that I was actually quite clear, and that I only needed to tweak one or two points. As a second example, after I watched video footage of myself from the comfort of home, I wrote to our incredible facilitator Yael Sivi to acknowledge that while I had feared the worst, it wasn’t as if I turned into a completely different version of myself.  The cognitive distortion at play there is Emotional Reasoning (assuming that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are). My takeaway was that I didn’t appear to others as uneasy as I felt inside. It’s a bit of a relief to know I should just focus more on my message and not my appearance.

Learning about cognitive distortions may seem distantly related to public speaking or becoming a great leader. But because of Emerging Leaders, I’m coming to understand in new ways just how greatly concepts like these can strengthen my approach to professional life. There’s nothing more powerful than knowledge - especially the kind that describes the daily mental habits that may assist or hamper the best of intentions, whether in myself or those I work with. As we’ve learned in the article “What Makes a Leader” by Daniel Goleman, it is emotional intelligence and not job skills that has everything to do with leading and managing well.

I am so appreciative of the opportunity to learn and practice these lessons which will follow me back to my own work in community programs at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, and stay with me as I contribute to the world of arts, social change and service. I feel very fortunate for these incisive tools provided by the program, and rich conversations led by Yael with my amazing peer group in Emerging Leaders.

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