The work applied to public speaking

How to apply “The Work” of Byron Katie to Public Speaking

The basis to overcome all our fears is to understand them. What is upsetting to you? What scares you? Why? What can you do about it? These are questions you must ask yourself to approach a problem in order to solve it. Eventually, if it has no solution, to accept it.

You must know yourself; you must know what scares you and then work on it.

The work

This idea is also the basis of “The Work”. A simple, yet interesting method designed by Byron Katie to understand yourself and find the answers you need.

It is a very practical plan, which makes it very powerful. You rationalize and question your own thoughts. Slowly, you’ll free yourself from the anxiety they give you because this questioning attitude makes the thoughts lose their power over us.

It’s easy to extrapolate this idea and apply it to public speaking. More important, it is extremely helpful. Controlling your anxiety makes you automatically a better speaker, and speaking better will decrease your anxiety over time.

The four steps – Applying “the work” to Public Speaking

The fear of public speaking, like many others, comes from a preconception that rarely represents reality. Most fears are around the audience’s reaction and a possible public humiliation that will, most likely, not occur. For that reason, we believe that “the work” is a particularly good mental exercise to provide you some assurance about your next speech.

Notice – Where does my anxiety come from?

I found out throughout my experience as a psychologist that many times we are invaded by strong feelings that we don’t know where they come from or why. That’s why this first step is so important. The goal is to consciously understand what are you feeling and reason of it.

Anxiety is a terrible partner that never lets go. Sometimes you don’t even know where it comes from, or you can’t remember how everything started. However, it’s essential to understand what you’re feeling and how it began.

Go back as farther as you can in time. Was public speaking always a motive of anxiety for you? Can you recall the first time you fell that anxiety? Try to remember a speech or presentation, maybe in high school, perhaps before. Why were you anxious? What was happening? What was the event that made you feel so terribly?

Let’s imagine that you just had had this great opportunity at work. It was your first job, and you had this fantastic idea to increase productivity. You decided to speak up in a work meeting. Your co-workers react with hostility.

Close your eyes for better concentration. Now, revisit the moment with all the detail. Live it again. See what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt.

Write – Trying to make sense of what you just saw

You felt under attack. You wished you’d never opened your mouth. No one defended you and the sense of humiliation was overwhelming. You might feel that they were all lazy, or hate you for no reason. Maybe they are terrible workers, maybe they just envy you… No matter how bad your thoughts might be, just write them down, exactly how they come to your mind.

This second step is as simple as demanding. Write down what you felt. Write it in small sentences, judgment-free. Remember that you’re the only one that will read it, so write without censoring yourself, no matter how terrible it could sound to a third party. Allow yourself to write down everything you can not think about saying out loud..

Try to explore in detail what made you feel bad and why. Were you humiliated? Did everybody laugh? Perhaps, you forgot something important. Did you block? The most insignificant details can be a clue to where your fear comes from and how to change your perspective about it.

Question – Can it happen again?

Something went wrong with a speech or presentation in your life. That was scary, humiliating maybe, or just extremely sad… No matter which feeling you had, it made you fear the situation from that day on. Now, it is time to think about it again. Would that happen again?

Byron Katie says this step is for you to take conscience of the truth of your belief. Your belief is probably that that terrible moment will happen again. So, can that happen? Are you sure?

The truth is that most of the time, even if your presentation isn’t that good, you will not be humiliated or have any terrible consequence. If that happened in the past, it was, most likely, due to a particular situation. The probability of happening again is insignificant.

Remember that incident on your first job? You’re probably more mature now and know what you can say and how to reach those people. Maybe you are in a new position again, and you are conscious that trying to change the way a company work in your first week is not the path to take.

Nonetheless, the next question is as important as the previous one. How would you avoid it? How would you deal with it if it happens again? Finding an answer to these questions, even if it’s not the optimal one, will make you feel more in control, decreasing your level of anxiety.

“Who would you be without that thought?” is the next question to answer. Your thoughts, your beliefs conduct you to a fear that is stopping you. What would you be able to do without that fear? What would you achieve? How could you evolve?

Would your career inside the company you’re working now, be different? What would be the impact in your growth, not only professionally, but also personal growth? Has this fear affected other parts of your life? How would those be without it?

Now that you have an image of what you could be, it’s time to work on that.

Turn It Around – changing beliefs

“If I speak up again in a meeting, I will not be humiliated.” “They will like my perspective.” “My team will support me.”

At this point, you have a better understanding of your thoughts and beliefs, and it’s time to change them by turning them around. Look at your sentences again and try to write them as the opposite.

As soon as you do it, analyze them. Can they be true? Is it more or less probable than the previous ones? Try to be as rational and practical as you can and be surprised by your own answers.

“The work” is a way to change your mindset

Simple exercises give shape to a powerful mindset changing with this “the work” of Byron Katie. These exercises can be applied to everything you’d like to change or fight in your life. In the vast majority of situations, our mind has a definitive role in what you are or not able to accomplish.

The same happens with Public Speaking, and that was the reason for me to present “the work” in the first place. Understanding what is holding you back, how it started and why, is the way to change your beliefs and thoughts. They are the only ones keeping you from being a great speaker!

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Cátia is a psychologist who is passionate about helping children develop and train social skills.


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