Sunday, April 30, 2017

Finding Your Voice Begins with Finding a Message

For more than 20 years, I have been teaching people to do public speaking and here's the most important thing I have learned. School gets it backwards. People need to find their message before they can really find their voice.

Most of the college students I teach think they hate public speaking. When we work on it a little, they begin to wonder if they hate speaking about stuff they don't know very well and don't care about very much. After all, most of their assignments ask them to make presentations on concepts and information they didn't know anything about a few weeks before.

They tell me, "Miss, I still don't like this course. I still don't like public speaking." I tell them that the only thing worse than speaking in front of a room is having something you want to say and not having a voice.

Finding a message is fundamental. It's the driving force that makes it worth having a voice. But it's not sufficient. You still have to work on the basics of style and structure (that's why it's worth teaching students how to work on those basics before they really have anything to say). When you have a message and the skill to shape it with style and compassion and energy, then you can drive results.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Use colour to trigger emotional connection

Well hello, springtime!

Imagine this picture in black and white. It's a collection of bushes in full leaf against some trees with a house in the background. That doesn't offer much of a story. It doesn't call out to you to connect.

But in full colour, you know that this is the kind of spring day that makes people smile as they pass you on the sidewalk or the trail. In colour, this picture invites you to stand next to me and marvel with me at the blue of the sky and the exuberant yellow of the forsythia. In colour, you know that this is a picture of promise and potential.

When you're communicating, you're probably tempted to either avoid the colour (and tell your stories in black and white, just the facts) or to avoid the story (just describe life as it is). The problem with this is that understanding takes an effort and if you want other people to make that effort, you have to give them something that promises the effort will be worth it. Just the facts, the black and white version of reality, relies on the receiver of the communication to make the effort long enough for meaning to be conveyed. That's a big ask of a busy person who already has more on their mind than they know what to do with.

The better way is to offer them that burst of yellow, that blue, blue sky. Let them feel the promise first. It will make it easier for them to pay attention to the facts, and make it easier for them to remember the facts long enough to do something with them.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The truth about starting fresh
Is this a picture of sunrise or sunset? We think we know the difference between a beginning and an ending, but it's hard to tell sometimes.

I am writing this on Easter Sunday. It's a day for beginning, but it's not a day for a fresh start. The story tells us that rebirth - like birth itself - is messy and terrifying and painful.

Christ rises and the women at the tomb are first confused, then terrified, and then joyful. And then they have to tell a story no one will believe.

Christ rises with the the memory and the marks of his life. He does not promise a fresh start. Forgiving is not forgetting. He remembers and so do we.

Christ rises and although you may not believe in the story, yet you believe the story itself while you hear it. That's how we understand stories: we believe them long enough to learn what happens, to experience a change, to recognize a pattern. This story is about the glory of starting again. This story is about the price of starting again.

This is a story about stripping away excuses. Yes, you are broken and your wounds are still fresh. Start again. Yes, your heart has been broken and you have been terrified and no one will believe you. Start again. Yes, there is a world of peace waiting if only you will give up and walk away. But stay. Engage.

This is the story. Maybe for you, it's only a story. But still while you hear it, it's a story that says you cannot start fresh. But you can step up and step out and choose to start again now.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Are you asking for what you want?

We're all good at knowing what we don't want. Often our anxiety to avoid problems and pain is so present that it drives our communication. We tell people what we don't want.

What changes when we get better at simply defining or describing what we do want? We experiment with this every time we run a program at NLP Canada Training. We start by asking two questions:

  1. What do you want to change because you came to this program?
  2. What do you want to be true of the group today?
Here are the answers from our recent practitioner retreat. It was a full day gathering to explore rhythm as an aspect of leadership.

The words at the top described what they wanted for themselves and the words at the bottom described what they wanted from the day.  You can compare them to the words they used at the end of the day to describe their experience.

On the one hand, this is nice feedback on the program we ran. On the other, it's a demonstration of the difference it can make when you decide what you want and describe it clearly to the people who can help you get it. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Our story begins with banana bread

Once upon a time, there was good coffee and homemade banana bread waiting for you early on a weekend morning. Somehow, although the weekend would be full of travel and challenges, time slowed down as you bit into the fresh, soft goodness. It was good. You were good.

That's how our story starts. Whenever we gather for a course or event, I bake banana bread. Even the people who don't eat the banana bread like what it means for their weekends: you're starting from home; someone cares; you do have the energy for what you want to accomplish.

It's hard to arrange this for yourself. If you bake your own banana bread, it's doesn't come with that little bit of surprise. If you seek it out at a favourite cafe, you get the treat, but not the same sense that it was made with you in mind, that it's reaching out like a hug. The public space is not often an anchor to home, and the public banana bread is not often exactly what we need to take us home.

People take my courses so they can be their best. What they find is that their very best depends on finding good ways to connect. We can't tickle ourselves, and we can't surprise ourselves on purpose, and it's often hard to cheer or focus or change our own minds.  But we can get ourselves to somewhere where someone else will make the tea or coffee and hand it to us with a smile.

And if there's fresh banana bread, that's even better.