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Tag Archives: the power of the body

Swim to the Deep End!

Thirty minutes into a challenging indoor cycling class when I was “seeing Elvis,” the instructor said, “If you have anything left in the tank, turn the tension up one more time.”  At that moment I had an epiphany:  the human body is capable of much more than the mind allows.  Once we push past the mental barrier that yells, “I can’t! It’s too hard!,” we find that we are stronger, smarter, and open to new possibilities.   Medal-winning athletes know this, and so do successful speakers.

When you are about to stand up and speak, what’s going through your mind?  Odds are it’s something like, “Let me just get through this without embarrassment,” or “Please don’t let me trip on the electrical cord.”  Chances are that you are not thinking, “I can’t wait to take a risk and really put myself out there.”

This blog post is an invitation to let your body move past the limits that your mind imposes.  If you want to really impress your audience and leave them with a pleasant aftertaste, consider incorporating one of these physical techniques:

  1. Change your volume.  If you are naturally on the church mouse end of the continuum, try speaking much louder.  If your style is closer to the carnival barker, try softening your voice.  Notice what it does to the rest of your delivery.
  2. Sing loudly right before you present.  You will be more energized and relaxed when you begin your presentation.
  3. Make a sound effect where you would normally use an adjective.  Go from bland to “Now that got my attention!”
  4. Step away from the lectern.  It’s a crutch.  Try speaking in the “magic circle” – that space front and center of the room.  Your audience will thank you.
  5. Break the wall.  Most speakers deliver their presentation at a “professional” distance from their audience.  Try moving closer into the personal space for an important point and then move back.

Break the mental barrier that keeps us stuck in the safe-and-average shallow end and move into the risky-and-fabulous deep end of the pool!  Your body should be in the lead role, not your mind.

– Barbara


Larry Crowne and Public Speaking

Having taught undergrads at the college level, I believe that gives me license to critique the movie Larry Crowne.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are back together again, but in no way do they deserve your hard-earned money.  I went because I wanted to see what Hollywood would do to the art and craft of public speaking.

Julia Roberts plays a cynical, disaffected community college professor who reluctantly teaches Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks.  In every classroom scene she conveys a palpable loathing for her students, except at the end, of course, when she has been transformed by the “life is good” energy of her star student Larry Crowne, played by Tom Hanks.  Did she have to hate her job?  Would the movie be less compelling if she jumped out of bed every morning with the anticipation of shaping young minds and developing the talents of her students?  Oh, wait, I get it:  Larry Crowne is competing with Bad Teacher for box office revenues.  But I digress.

Do not see this movie.  I think Rex Reed said it best in his review:  “In an endurance test of 99 minutes that feels more like running a marathon on the Equator, nothing ever happens in this movie. There is no conflict. The characters are dead on arrival. Somebody must be held accountable for clunky, unspeakable dialogue like ‘I was worked up and under the influence of the demon rum.’ I mean, who talks like that outside the pages of paperbacks for hyper-thyroidal teens sold in airport departure lounges?”  Wow. Harsh.

On the bright side, the movie did get a couple of things right about public speaking.  First, Mrs. Tainot (Julia) suggests to her students  that they find three focal points in the room – one on the left, one on the right and one in the center of the room.  And when you have an important point to make, look directly at the center point for full effect.  Correct. One point for Hollywood.

The second thing they got right was how to deal with nerves.  Toward the end of the movie when Professor Tainot is preparing her students for the final speech, she has them stand up and move their bodies in all sorts of ways while reciting tongue twisters loudly.  This is a great way to diminish nervous tension and it was a real plus in an otherwise wasted two hours of my life.

Sorry Tom and Julia – I love your work, just not in this particular instance.  But Rita Wilson?  Your cameo as the mortgage loan officer stole the show.

– Barbara

Have you Seen Yourself on Video Lately?

Seeing myself on video typically elicits a variation on one of these responses:

1)   “I will never wear that outfit again.”

2)    “I thought I was so much (pick any of the following) smarter, funnier, clearer, better looking than this.”

3)   “Turn it off.  Seriously, I can’t take another minute!”

So needless to say, when Barbara and I hit replay on a recent workshop videotape, I was both curious as hell and defensively hardened to expect the worst. We watched for a few minutes in silence. Then Barbara said, “Well, I don’t hate it.”  (That just killed me because what I really heard her say was,  “This is much better than I expected and I can live with it!”).  And she was right, though her language revealed the negative orientation toward self- assessment that I both relate to and witness frequently with my clients.

But here was the real zinger. Once we loosened up and enjoyed laughing at ourselves and each other, (and frankly we both have seen ourselves often enough to not be too surprised), we realized that a whole back-story was playing out on this video that neither of us had any awareness of at the time.

We were floored. Was I really standing so awkwardly nearby while she was presenting an important module? Was she really prepping the room for the next piece, while I was delivering my content? We were roaring with disbelief!   And more importantly, in seeing myself on film, I was able to recognize that I had actually experienced a sense of discomfort about where to stand while Barbara presented, but hadn’t been able to resolve it at the time.  My body radiated that discomfort on film. It was so illuminating and hugely beneficial. We got great insight into how to make our workshops even more seamless. It was a fantastic learning experience. And we screamed with laughter at ourselves which is always good for the partnership and the soul.

So pull out your video.  And don’t just see the worst; wait for that unexpected —you may be glad.


Marcus Buckingham and the Power of Showing Up

I admit that I would watch a 24-hour cable channel devoted to Marcus Buckingham.  He is not only a font of information on career advancement and workplace engagement, but he’s also, shall we say, telegenic.  I had the pleasure of seeing him present again this week on his new research and upcoming book called StandOut – the next iteration of strengths-based research.

This post has to do with his presentation rather than his new content (the book’s not out until September).  The key lesson I took away from his 40-minute presentation was that you have to show up completely to be a successful speaker.  The other presenters I saw at this conference were not nearly as impressive. They were just phoning it in.  You could tell they did not care if they were in Fresno or Fredonia so long as they sold products.

But Marcus was running on all cylinders and the audience ate it up.  It did not hurt that he was preceded by the amazing dance troupe called G Force who pumped up the audience and got the energy flowing.   Imagine if he came out on stage after that dazzling display with his shoulders slouched and mumbling an awkward introduction.  Everyone would have looked down at their I-Pads or smart phones (like they did in other sessions).

The lesson here is to stop strategizing and rehearsing right before you speak. Instead, take a moment to center yourself, enjoy a few, deep cleansing breaths and go.  When you show up fully, the audience responds in kind.

– Barbara

“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.