Friday, September 28, 2007

Fear vs. Fun

At the end of a private session yesterday, a new client related to me that she had been telling friends and colleagues that she was going to see a speech coach to prepare for an upcoming presentation. The reaction of most? "Oh my God, why??" As in, "Why would you want to subject yourself to such torture?"

Yes, we all know the oft-quoted statistic that more people fear public speaking than death. Maybe because death (or whatever comes afterward) is forever, while speaking in public just feels like it'll never end. :-) ... So what does that mean a coaching session is like?

Most people are afraid of feeling completely vulnerable and exposed. To some degree, this is true. But it all depends on the environment created by the coach. No one likes to be criticized, so many people have an automatic fear arise. While I can't speak for other coaches, as for myself, I always strive to create a dual atmosphere, one that is both safe and fun. As a matter of fact, last night one of my students in a free class at a WholeSpeak Open House remarked upon how fun it was: "If people just knew how fun this was, everyone I know would come!"

Fear, of course, is usually of the unknown or of an imagined worst-case scenario. But the truth? My students consistently remark about not just the fun they have in a workshop, but the amount of freedom and joy they experience in life afterward. Because of this, I have even instituted a money-back guarantee that all participants will learn new skills and find more freedom in expression.

Learning from an expert is essential. One colleague of my aforementioned new client told her, "You're already great! You don't need coaching!" While positive reinforcement and accolades are important, I wouldn't ask my best friend about the condition of my teeth - or ask my dentist if my tax return looks good. While I'm glad to say that people enjoy my workshops far more than going to the dentist, it's important to realize that an expert in any field will see things that others don't.

So forgive this somewhat self-referential post about why my work is both enjoyable and helpful. But after hearing the aforementioned comments yesterday, I thought it might not be a bad idea to pose the question: What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Whole Self Expression

One of WholeSpeak's mottos is "Express your whole self." What does it mean, exactly?

When we "perform" in everyday life, the tendency is to choose (both consciously and unconsciously) what part of ourselves is appropriate to show and express in a given situation. If we're with people we don't know very well at a party, for example, walls may go up, along with possibly a fake demeanor that wouldn't be there with a close friend or spouse in a private setting. For those who work in the corporate world, an entire everyday performance may be constructed to conform with its standards and expectations. While this is true for numerous environments and cultures, when we spend the majority of our day in it, we may start to forget the full range of expression - and even the true scope of our potential. We may even forget what it means to move beyond these fractured identities, and to be whole.

When people take a WholeSpeak course, the first phase can be a bit uncomfortable, because it's about breaking free of the societal chains that we've agreed to wear. A process of unshackling, on many levels. But it's also exhilerating. So many times I've seen a reaction such as, "You mean it's okay to do *that*??" Yes, you can move differently than you're used to. Yes, you can access and play with a much wider vocal range when speaking. Yes, you can own your power and be yourself, not just what is expected of you, and still keep your job.

This work certainly engenders superior public speaking skills. But it does far more. Other people begin to see you differently, because you become more comfortable in your own skin, wherever you are. You can express far more of yourself than you used to. Becoming whole, and expressing wholly, are the same work.

WholeSpeak's new Signature Series, Whole Self Expression, begins this fall. The first course (offered as a 1-day intensive or on two Thursday evenings) is Unshackling Expression. WholeSpeak 201 is Cultivating Expression, and 301 is Extraordinary Expression. You can find details on our web site at http://www.wholespeak.com/schedule.html about these courses in Colorado.

We of course also travel around the country, so be in touch if you'd like to bring this work to your organization or community - the transformation it brings to a group is quite tangible and powerful.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Breath of Life

Hello again, after a long summer away. While I loved teaching an acting intensive in Berkeley, and then directing a speech institute at Stanford, I'm glad to be back in Colorado.

If you've ever taken a workshop from me, you are acquainted with my emphasis on working with the breath. Why is breathing so important?

To begin with the obvious, if breathing ceases, so do you. Conversely, if you breathe more fully, you bring more life into your being. Breath is directed consciousness. Just as many fitness and yoga instructors speak of directing the breath to a particular body part, it can help wake you up. And when you're more awake - physically, mentally, and emotionally - you'll be much more engaging to your audience.

Second, the breath awakens different resonators in the body, which are tied into our voice placement. If your voice tends to be stuck in a particular place - such as nasal or very high, or a little monotone - working with the breath will help expand your range of pitch and tone.

Third, if your throat has ever felt scratchy after talking too long, this is likely a combination of shallow breathing and muscle tension. Proper breathing helps prevent vocal strain.

Finally, per the previous post, breath fosters presence. It brings you into your body, and into the present moment. Breath gives you time to feel your audience, and space to collect your thoughts. Breath is giving and receiving.

While many of my clients want to jump straight into "tricks" for engaging an audience, these are far less important than creating a strong foundation. Learning essential technique such as breathwork will translate into far more virtuosity than you thought possible!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Presence

As an audience member, it's not that hard to tell if a speaker has presence. Yet it's one of those terms that many people avoid quantifying and tend to say "you either have it or you don't," similar to the idea of "talent." In my book, that's an indication that a coach simply doesn't have the tools to help clients learn it.

So what is presence? Personal magnetism? Let's start by discussing what it's not.

First of all, it need not be conflated with other situations in life, be it how you feel when socializing at a party or one-on-one. Talking in front of groups, both large and small, is an entirely different animal.

Second, presence has nothing to do with being "entertaining" or having the ability to tell a good joke. In fact, that can really get in your way from having presence.

So what is it?

Take a look at the word: presence. Essentially, you need to be fully present. That is, not in your head - not worrying about how you come off, whether you forgot something, what events happened before you spoke or what will be coming after, or what you hope will result from the speaking engagement.

So how do I get fully present, Mr. Wizard?

Great question. Luckily, there are specific answers. Many of them are truly experiential, and I teach them in my workshops and coaching sessions, but here are a few that can be conveyed in words.

  • Get in your body. Do a full physical warmup before you speak. As my students and clients know, most people view speaking as happening from the neck up, and maybe involving their hands a bit. I see speaking as a whole-body experience.
  • Honor it changing in the moment. So many speakers (including myself) are perfectionists, and we want everything to come off exactly as we planned it. Unfortunately, this can never happen - because you're in front of a live audience. Even if you've given the exact same talk before, it was likely in a different room with a different group of people. Two speeches are never the same, because a speech - even one that is a strict lecture - is an interactive engagement. If you're not really engaging and connecting, you're not present!
  • Think process, not product. Following up on the last item: be in the process of the moment, not in the product of the idea of how you expected it to go. Go with the flow!
  • Connect with your audience.Use good eye contact. And pause - pauses are a way of listening.


Again, these may be easier to recite than to learn how to do - even something basic like eye contact may feel forced and awkward in front of a large group. But don't despair! Whether you get coaching from myself or other professional speech coaches, these can be very quickly learned; most of my clients learn the bulk of it in just 3 to 5 sessions - tools they will use for their whole lives. But for the short term, the tips above are a great place to start!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

the elevator pitch

I was having coffee with Liz Ryan (formerly of WorldWIT, now of AskLizRyan.com) the other day, and we were discussing how people suddenly lose common etiquette when they enter a business networking situation. If you have your own business or even work for one, you may easily find yourself at a local chamber of commerce mixer, or even at a coctail party where people tend to ask "What do you do?"

Like myself, you may find that situation to feel forced and artificial. Perhaps that's the reason the response gets awkward: doing what professionals recommend, memorizing a 30-second "elevator pitch" or speech. Why is that so forced? I'll bet you that's not how they talk with their loved ones and friends. But in this networking or social situation with people you don't know well, it can become very forced, because this "workplace persona" gets divorced from the rest of life.

When meeting someone to talk about what you do - perhaps at some sort of mixer - it need not be a "pitch," which inherently equates to "Hire me" or "Buy my product." Nonetheless, a an elevator "speech" - or locker room talk, or ran-into-someone-at-Starbucks banter - is important. Just being able to talk about what you do in simple terms, with zero agenda, is a good skill to have.

Memorizing a 30-second blurb and reciting it, unless you're a professional presenter, will likely sound forced and artificial. My recommendation is to just have in the back of your head a few key phrases or words about what you do. That way, depending on the situation, you can give the 3 word title or the 3 sentence description, depending upon the situation and, most importantly, the listener's level of interest. (Look for nonverbal and verbal cues.)

Keep in mind, though - it may be more appropriate to talk primarily about the game last night, the weather, or the news. If you force it in the conversation, it becomes a pitch. Being yourself and being human and connecting naturally will go much farther. And even if your aim is to make business contacts because you really, really need a job, perhaps it will be more appropriate the next time you see them. Making connections is about really connecting, however is most natural and appropriate to the moment.

P.S. - Liz Ryan's Yahoo Groups are a fantastic way to connect with other people locally, about business matters, finding jobs, or just getting a recommendation for a dentist. Check 'em out at www.lizryan.com.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Stressed out by networking events?

Whether it's a formal networking event, or simply a social situation where you desire to network, it's easy to get stressed out. The former may feel forced, surrounded by people you don't know - and with the latter, if you're job searching, for example, and want to talk with acquaintances about possible leads, it can feel awkward to introduce the topic of jobs.

What can feel like a forced or artificial social situation may bring out the "actor" in you. Of course, that connects with the reason why so much acting is bad - because it doesn't feel real to the audience. So here are two possibilities to help you be more of yourself (which can be used together or separately):

1) "Do" less. Literally relax and trust that you don't have to do or be anything special. You don't have to "sell" yourself - because you're naturally a unique and interesting person. (Really!) Don't force anything to happen. And know that whatever your current state - seeking a new job or whatnot - is common, acceptable, and even a good thing - because the right person may be in that same room, hoping to meet you as well!

2) Before the event - even in your car right after you arrive - close your eyes, and remember a particularly wonderful memory. A wedding, being at the beach with friends, an easy-to-recall event that makes you smile and light up. Take a few minutes to breathe in all the sensations you remember - wiggling your toes in the sand, the salt sea air, the waves rushing in, the hot dog you bought at the vendor... engage all 5 senses. And remember clearly the enjoyment of who you're with. *Then* bring that memory in the door with you. Remember it at various points during the gathering. It will help you relax and smile, which is guaranteed to attract people to you.

Welcome!

This blog is designed to provide both the casual user and professionals with tips they can use in various aspects of their lives:
  • the workplace
  • networking events
  • public speaking opportunities
  • everyday life!
If you've perused my web site, www.wholespeak.com, you've read about my philosophy of Everyday Life Performance. That is, we're performing all of the time, mostly unconsciously. By applying performance training techniques and concepts to our lives, we can gain greater empowerment, self-expression, and joy.

Once or twice a week, I will add new tips to help foster authenticity and gain helpful skills - as well as occasional special offers for workshops, classes and coaching. Stay tuned!