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The Paradox of Cliches

This week we are focusing on cliches, those overexposed sayings and overused metaphors that we hear everyday. As I write this I am sitting in an office reception area that itself could be a cliche: neutral colored couch and chairs, ferns and greenery (some real/some not), magazines on glass tables,and framed colored photographs of sunsets on the walls. Seriously, what is more cliche than a photograph of a sunset ? On a wall in an office?

The paradox of cliches is that they are often profoundly true (love is blind) deeply human (there’s no place like home) and embarrassingly unoriginal (easy as pie). They are also occasionally offensive, so please NEVER ask to “pick my brain.”   While we have all witnessed the gasping pinks and blues of a summer sky (I took this photo on Martha’s Vineyard) and the physical rush of “falling in love”, to use cliches in speech or writing is to communicate in tired language that masks your vivid, original self. If, as you prepare a presentation, the familiar language of a cliche speaks to you, try to reframe and recast the idea in your own words, using vibrant color, characters, setting and story. This will make you more real and more memorable.

So when you think cliches, remember:  Avoid them like the Plague.

-Charlotte

P.S. Note to Bostonians: check out the Catherine Opie photography exhibit at the ICA for an interesting twist on sunrises and sunsets.

http://www.icaboston.org/exhibitions/onview/

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Impersonators, ‘The Trip’ and a You Tube Video

Suddenly I am inundated with impersonators. This week I saw a Barbra Streisand drag queen, the movie, ‘The Trip’ and the attached YouTube video link sent from a friend.

The drag queen was essentially a train wreck; (one we couldn’t stop watching until we escaped, though s/he totally had that Babs sweeping the locks from across her face gesture down pat)! “The Trip” was quirkily entertaining (and slightly depressing) and the You Tube video confirms that impersonation is just plain fascinating.

‘The Trip” is a story of two semi-famous English actors on a culinary road trip. They engage in an ongoing game of one-upmanship about their celebrity impersonations.  They deconstruct and banter in the voices of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Liam Neeson, Al Pacino, Hugh Grant, Anthony Hopkins, Roger Moore, and Woody Allen.  It’s so entertaining. And thought provoking – what makes a dead-on impersonation such a delight?

Generally, we don’t think too much about all the facets of what actually makes each of our unique communication “impressions.” But some talented actor could easily imitate you. They watch, notice and imitate -tonality, resonance, placement, pacing, breath control, emphasis, volume, and mannerisms. Put it all together and it’s like a magic trick – a hand clapping delight.  Here’s the YouTube link I was sent. Enjoy.

Charlotte

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, The New Yorker and TedWomen Talks

I just finished the recent New Yorker profile about Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. This led me to her recent talk at TEDWomen, which was focused on women, leadership and the sad lack of women in the C-Suite. She dives into this complication, sharing interesting data, anecdotal experience and offers three pieces of practical advice for working women today.

Sandberg is an insightful, smart and savvy speaker.  She is open and honest.  She shares personal and professional anecdotes about both dealing with the guilt of leaving your crying baby behind as you head off to work, but reveling in sitting and negotiating hard at a table of men, doing work she loves.  I want to hear more from her. If the opportunity arises, I will absolutely go to listen to her in a public forum.

As a coach, I  found her physically contained on stage, restricted in her movements. Was it the stiletto heels? I think so. I don’t see any inconsistency between feminism and fashion, but I would have encouraged her to wear heels that gave her more physical grounding on the platform.  This talk is 15 minutes. Enjoy and learn.

– Charlotte

“Success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”  Sheryl Sandberg

Jane Fonda’s Autobiography: “My Life So Far”

I know I am getting older. And not only because of the number of times I have circled the sun, but because I find myself enjoying new interests like bird watching, peony-growing, and reading non-fiction.  Jane Fonda’s book was a revelation.

I admire and applaud her for writing with such intelligence and honesty. I was stunned by the duality of her life – what it looked like in pictures versus what was going on within. I was shocked that she shared so much about her very flawed parents, her fear, shame, disease to please, eating disorder and sex life. Fonda’s intellectual curiosity, transformation and journey to self are inspiring. Her true commitment to social and political change (especially for girls and women) is tremendous. This book is long, but it is very well structured, and filled with photos, celebrity insights, great quotes, and a comprehensive history of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Jane Fonda studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who developed a style known as the Method. He became the artistic director of the Actors Studio and Fonda learned her most important acting techniques and lessons with him. Fonda quotes him as saying, “Tension is the occupational disease of the actor.”

Hmm…just the actor? Dare I say that tension is also the occupational disease of the public speaker? As Fonda explains it, relaxation is key for actors, so that “the body’s energetic flow is unimpeded and inspiration can rise and express itself through the actor’s spirit: in eyes, voice and movement…the body as instrument.” She continues, “ You can’t do most things well without being relaxed, not in sports, not in lovemaking, not in acting.”

We know in our heads that we need to embody this same relaxation when we speak in public, so that we make genuine connections and deeply feel that we have done our best.  For the speaker, this state of mind (and body!) is called “relaxed readiness.” Being relaxed and ready means we know where we are going, we’re ready to attend to the ebb and flow of unexpected people, questions, scenarios, and trusting that the ideas, the eyes, the voice and the movement will connect with our audience.  This is an occupational aspiration for public speakers.

-Charlotte

Stating the Obvious

Why do we need and value feedback and coaching? Because it is nearly impossible to 1) clarify your thoughts, 2) organize them into a cohesive presentation and 3) deliver them effectively while at the same time observing your own distracting quirks, de-railers and inconsistencies.   This 82 second video-test is a great example of this. Tell me how you do. -Charlotte

On the Road Again

I love maps. I love figuring out travel routes and examining the terrain.  I have lived in Massachusetts for 33 years, yet I still continue to pore over New England maps whenever I get on the road.  I can’t relate to the “I have no sense of direction” people who look at me like I have two heads when I tell them to head east on Commonwealth Avenue.  And, for those of us who live in Boston (the mecca for road design that makes no sense…and makes us secretly proud insiders), we know that there are many paths that lead to our destination. As it goes with public speaking.

My client had an important presentation for a thousand people. Naturally, he wanted to be clear and moving, succinct and spellbinding. He had an insightful, intelligent, heartfelt story to tell.  We broke his presentation into three parts. (Remember, 3’s and their subsets are easy to remember). Each part had its own beginning, its path so to speak, that once set upon would be easy to follow and remember.  We developed opening sentences to the sections that would place him squarely on the road.  Easy, right?

Not so much. While we practiced he kept changing his opening lines, which led him deeply into the weeds.  I finally used the map metaphor.  Stop changing the route! Stay on the path we have created, it works and it will get you there. Stop thinking you can meander off into a side road, because inevitably you are going to get lost or take a much more circuitous route to get to your destination.  You will get there, but you will lose your audience in the process.  After a few stops and starts, he understood the power of seeing and staying the course.

Speakers need to map out presentations, to visualize and essentially memorize the route. All successful presenters do this.  One of the jobs of a good coach is to help you map the best route for your presentation.  So, think map metaphor when you design your next presentation.

-Charlotte

Next Post: GPS: Where do you stand?

“American Idol” versus “The Voice”

My kids have already put “The Voice” on DVR pre-record mode. They are hooked and I may be getting there too.  American Idol never did a thing for me.  So what is going on?

Despite the incredibly tacky design and fight-ring theme, the blind auditions, star studded feedback (they vote with their hands, not their feet!) and team building competition makes for compelling intrigue. I love the blind audition element because it demonstrates how affected we all are by how people look.  We are thinking, “Wow, this is one crazy looking woman!” or “This guy looks like a 12 year old white kid from the Midwest but he sure sounds like a mature black R&B star!” But, since the celebrity judges can’t see the singers, they have to listen with their ears and hearts. And who doesn’t love the look of surprise, delight, and amazement when the stars slam their buzzer, swivel their (tacky!) chairs around and get to see the singer they just voted for! It’s so satisfying to watch their curiosity get piqued. It’s awesome. And fair.

In his book BLINK , Malcolm Gladwell describes the process that orchestras throughout the world faced in the mid 20th century, as auditioners began to fight the bias of conductors for white male players.  Screens were being used to avoid potential nepotism. Since “naturally” some instruments are “male” and should be played only by a man, judges were stunned when faced with a petite woman “blowing the house” out of her “male” trombone instrument. There was a lot of pushback.  Nonetheless since orchestras began using screens, “the number of women in the top US orchestras has increased five-fold.”  We listen with our eyes, whether we want to admit it or not.

For speakers this underscores the importance of recognizing how critical our physical movement and presence is to our audience. For singers on The Voice, it means (at least in the first round) freedom.

-Charlotte