Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Presence

As a Performance Coach, I identify four elements that make us better speakers, performers, and communicators: comfort/ease, connection, presence, and technique. However, they overlap: increasing one affects the others.

Let’s talk about presence and connection. As you know, the holidays can be both a joyous and a difficult time. Spending time with family can alternate between being wonderful and a minefield. Or we may feel alone. it’s easy to get down and have old stuff come up.

In this holiday season, perhaps the best present you can give is your full presence. But it can be hard. When with someone we have a difficult time with – an in-law, a co-worker or, well, anyone else we find challenging – we often check out. Perhaps we wish they were different.

How would it be to fully embrace this singular, unique moment? Choosing to be present brings the possibility for something new to arise. Sure, it may be scary and not as safe, but sometimes that’s what is needed for true transformation to happen.

And the same goes for how you experience yourself. When we get depressed or fearful, in some sense we abandon ourselves. We don’t remember that we have abundant resources, and that new people and things may enter our lives at any moment. We forget about our true nature as incredible human beings.

Holiday Presence Exercise: When you find yourself in a moment of difficulty with someone, place your feet flat on the floor and straighten your spine. Keep looking them in the eye while taking long, deep breaths. picture your breathing coming in and out of your heart. As you breathe, imagine inhaling their energy, and exhaling your own. Accept what’s offered, and give back.

Allow yourself this holiday season to give and receive – from your whole self.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Authenticity... get real.

One question that often arises, for public speaking, performers, and when networking, is authenticity. Have you ever met someone at a networking event, or witnessed a speaker or performer, who just felt fake? Or... have you ever felt fake? Most of us have. Whether we try to or not, we usually seek to conform with perceived societal norms and expectations. These get in the way of being ourselves and expressing ourselves easily. Ironically, even if we try to rebel against them, we’re still “in relationship” with them, and thus can’t escape them. So, what to do?

Tip #1: Get present. A good first step is simply focusing on the breath. It’s the most fundamental means of finding yourself amidst everyone else. Instead of worrying about how you're being perceived, practice deep abdominal breathing, the most essential bodily activity. Then, stretch and loosen up to let go of unnecessary physical and mental tension.

Tip #2: Play. What we think of as “natural” or “ourselves” is really a series of habits. We can find a new range of expression by playing. Have fun! Alter your voice, your facial expressions, etc. This can break us out of our habitual expression and constriction, and help us take ourselves less seriously – a good step forward.

Tip #3: Don’t try to look good. The more you try to make a good impression, the worse you’ll actually do. Let go, relax and speak with much less effort. You’ll be surprised how much less stressful it feels, and how much better you’ll be received.

Tip #4: Rather than thinking about your own work, focus on who you’re communicating with. Regardless of whether it’s an audience or an individual, really listen. Even if they don’t express anything deep back, look for hints about how their work is either important to them or an important service in the world, and engage them about it.

Try any of these, and let me know the results. And if you'd like to learn how to do these really effectively, ask me about coaching, in-person or on Skype.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What to Do When You Screw Up

Okay, so the title isn't very poetic. But it's how it feels... and internally we may draw upon far more colorful terms. You know how it goes.

You’re in the middle of a speech… a performance… a job interview. And even though you’ve prepared extensively (or, at least, are ad-libbing really darn well), It Happens. You say the wrong thing. You realize you’re wearing different shoes on each foot. Your audience doesn’t react the way you want them to. You feel like shrinking into a tiny little ball and disappearing.

Yet you can’t. You’re there, and… they’re there. So what should you do?

When we stay preoccupied with a mistake, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Rather than continuing to connect* with the audience and stay present*, we keep thinking about how we messed up. It’s over. No one will like us, our loved ones will hate us, and we'll never get hired on this planet again.

But this self-flagellation doesn’t help us. (Plus, it's not true.) So what can we do instead? If we give ourselves permission to go outside our comfort zones, to try new things, and to not be perfect (gasp), our audience actually likes us more. I can’t tell you the number of times, when acting or speaking, that I’ve made ghastly mistakes... but it’s more than I’d like to admit. Or is it? Guess what. I make mistakes. Or, um, creative solutions. OK, they’re really screwups.

So, What’s best to do? A few possibilities:
A) Keep going, and act like it didn’t happen. For something minor, this is often just fine. They won’t know if you don’t tell them! So, don’t.
B) Stop, acknowledge it, back up, and offer the correct information. As awkward as this may feel, if it’s truly necessary to not sound completely wrong, then do it. But use humor if you can, and act like it’s really okay. Take yourself lightly, and they will too.
C) Offer a correction later. “Just to clarify, as I might have used an ambiguous wording earlier….” I don't recommend this often, as it can make an error stick in people's minds, but is occasionally appropriate.

No matter what, be okay with it. We’re all human, and most people appreciate being able to admit mistakes and offer corrections without it being a big deal (an interesting juxtaposition of humility and confidence). Most importantly, don’t get in your own way.

*The four key elements to successful performing – be it as a speaker, on stage, or in everyday life – are Presence, Technique, Comfort and Ease, and Connection. All four are easily learned. Inquire if you’d like to learn more.

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