January 7th, 2019
What an honor it was to speak on the TEDx stage! For a long time I couldn’t even imagine it. Then I considered the possibility that ONE DAY I would have the opportunity, but it was a long way off.
Then it started to feel a little closer, when suddenly BOOM, there I was standing on the red dot.
As we head into the new year, rather than writing a post about a new way to set goals for the upcoming year, or finding your one word, or trashing new year’s resolutions altogether (there are enough posts out there already and goals & resolutions are just not my thing), I’m sending these lessons and aha’s from my experience giving my TEDx talk.
More lessons to come, I know, once the video goes live (hopefully next week!) but till then, this is what I’ve got:
This is pretty much a word of advice for any big project you take on, but especially for the project of crafting a TEDx talk.
One of the assignments from the organizers of TEDxCherryCreekWomen was to give the talk to self-selected audiences of at least 5 people. One group of people who know me well. One group of acquaintances. One group of strangers.
What a fabulous exercise that was!
I ended up doing about 5 showings, each one to a different group. (If you were in one of those groups, A BIG FAT THANK YOU TO YOU!!)
It was SO helpful to hear feedback, questions, reflections about my unfolding talk, to hear where people went “huh?” and where people found gaps in my thinking.
A talk IS a conversation, even if you’re the only one talking, so to hear the conversations going on in the head’s of the listeners made a huge difference as I answered my own questions about the talk.
Aaaaand, it’s still your talk. You gotta make the final call. You get to trust yourself. You can get feedback till the cows come home, but ultimately you gotta come home to yourself and answer your own questions.
There will still be gaps, questions, places that don’t land for some people. But that’s part of the power of speaking.
I knew I couldn’t answer all the questions or fill all the gaps that people had, but to know what questions were there, helped me hone in on what it was I knew I wanted to say.
The day before the talk, I had a regular day scheduled. I had Speaker’s Playground in the morning, a couple of calls in the afternoon, a quarterly potluck with a practice group I’m part of. Busy day. And I had to be in Denver at 8am to prep for the TEDx day.
But the day before that my voice started to grow weary. It was tired. I talk a lot in my work, AND I’d been rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing my talk, still trying to knock a few minutes off.
I sucked on some slippery elm lozenges and went to bed, slightly concerned. I initially thought I would tough it out and teach in the morning, go forward with the calls, I could do it.
Then I thought…Johanna, rest. Give your voice a rest. You know you won’t take it easy at Speaker’s Playground. It’s ok to cancel. I had wanted to get a final ooomph of energy from my amazing group of speakers I get to play with, but decided it made more sense to let it go.
So I canceled. Canceled the calls. Stayed home all day with complete vocal rest. No talking at all. Lots of slippery elm, Singer’s Saving Grace and more remedies from every witch in my world.
When I tried to talk it hurt. It wasn’t yet laryngitis, but it felt like it was heading that way. I couldn’t find the power behind my voice. My chest hurt when I talked. It felt weary.
I was giving a TEDx talk the next day about my voice, and I was losing my voice.
I knew this was medicine. I knew my body knew exactly what it needed. Had my voice not grown weary, I wouldn’t have taken that day to rest, and I needed that day to rest.
But then a coach that I work with hooked me up with a vocal coach in NYC, Jon Stancato. He worked with me on the phone for about 30 minutes and my voice totally turned around.
He helped me get right to the center of my habitual voice, which was tired, tired of speaking in a particular way that wasn’t serving me anymore, and together we found the parts of my voice around the habit, where there was still power.
It was the habitual voice that was tired of speaking. Everything around it was fully intact.
So I spent the rest of the night singing and dancing in a friend’s basement dance studio, and woke the next day, body and voice ready and excited to speak!
I confess the whole thing was a teensy bit anti-climactic.
I learned that a TEDx talk is still me sharing my message in a room with a whole bunch of people, which I’ve done a lot of. Only difference is I’m standing on a big red dot.
And OK, because of what that dot stands for, perhaps it’s a big difference.
But when I got out there and took a breath, I sorta thought, “Where’s the beam of light shooting through my spine connecting me to heaven and earth because finally I have arrived on a TEDx stage?
Where are the fireworks bursting through the roof?
How come I’m still me and they’re still them? I thought we would all dissolve into one and I would once again feel at one with the universe and all of humanity and I would walk out a brand new person.
None of that happened.
There I was, standing on the red dot, waiting for the beam of light, and when there wasn’t one I figured, well, I better start talking.
So I did.
Which means they won’t respond the way you expect them to. Which means each talk is a brand new talk.
They didn’t laugh where I had consistently gotten a laugh in all of my run-throughs. I had shown this talk so many times to so many different combinations of people, and that one spot where I always got a laugh just floated right by.
I wanted to stop and say “Was it me or was it you? Did I miss the timing on that? Was I half a beat too slow? Can I rewind and do that over? Because that was a really funny line and you didn’t laugh.”
But I didn’t get a do-over. They didn’t laugh. It threw me a tiny bit. Made me wonder, “Are they with me? Do they feel my groove? Do they get my jive?”
I knew I couldn’t hang out in that wondering for more than a split second. I came back to my body. Back to my breath. Back to my feet on the ground. Back to my audience. And I kept rolling.
I stayed true to my message, dropped down deeper into my truth, listened as my audience leaned in. Found them and spoke to that moment.
Oh yes, there you are. Here I am. Let’s do this.
Endings are hard. I tweaked and massaged and changed and messed with my ending so freakin much in the crafting process. I went back and forth from this to that. I know how important it is to nail the ending. I thought I found it. I thought it was clear. But when I said the last line nothing happened. They didn’t know it was the ending.
Big fat empty hollow quiet vacuous spacious never-ending gap.
WHERE IS THE WILD APPLAUSE? IT’S OVER, GUYS. COME ON!!
I forgot to say “Thank you.” I just stood there in this vast emptiness waiting for something to happen.
Finally I took a step backwards and muttered thank you under my breath and the applause came.
There. OK. Done. Phewsh.
Afterwards, I was still the same person.
No great transformation.
Skin: still in tact. Heart: still beating.
And I got lots of great feedback from audience members. Gratitude. Tears. Hugs. Words like “I can’t wait to share that with every woman I know.” And “Thanks to you I’m going to go home and see my body differently when I look in the mirror.”
That counts for a lot.
It helped me remember that it’s not about me. Whether or not I had a spiritual experience, an epiphany, a big fat high standing on that red dot, I know my talk had an impact. I know it touched people, and it will continue to touch people when the video goes live.
What a gift to remember again and again that it’s really not about me at all.
Again. Still. Always.
Two days after the talk I got sick. Wretched cough. Fever. Aches throughout my body.
Canceled everything and rested and let the whole experience simmer through my body.
The celebration is coming slow and steady as I continue to move through the world saying what I want to say, letting my body show me what it knows over and over again.
UPDATE! Here’s the video! Enjoy!!
December 13th, 2018
A client came to me this morning saying “I’m horrible at memorizing. I can’t do it. I’ll never be able to be a speaker because I just can’t remember what to say! I rehearse and rehearse and still my mind comes up blank and then I freak out cuz I’m never gonna learn this talk.”
And well, let’s just say it’s not the first time I’ve heard that.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks people report that erodes at their confidence when they’re speaking is feeling NOT READY. Not totally knowing their content. Winging it. Being scared of forgetting. Being scared that their scared-ness will make them forget.
If that’s you, I get it. That’s worthy of some frustrated grumbling.
OK “wrong” is a strong word, but you’re probably not practicing in the best possible way to really learn the talk, to know it in your bones, like the back of your hand, like brushing your teeth, like riding a bike.
So here goes. Tips. I’ve got 6.
You’re not memorizing. Please don’t memorize your talk.
When you memorize, you’re memorizing a script that you wrote. It’s like the script is on the roof of your brain and it serves as a thin veneer between you and your audience, which means you’re more connected to your script than to your audience. You probably feel pretty robotic. Your audience will likely experience you as robotic, rather than easeful and connected.
If you’ve “memorized” your talk, you gotta go right back to the same spot you got lost. If you can’t find that spot you’re doomed. It’s easy to get derailed and stumble around to find the rail but never find the rail again and then crash and burn. (yikes!)
So let’s just start right off the bat with changing the language around what you’re even doing. Don’t memorize your talk. Learn it. Know it. Get it in your bones. But please don’t memorize it.
Written language is different than spoken language. You speak way different than you talk. So even in the process of crafting your talk, I suggest doing what you can to not get stuck in a deep editing process through writing.
Write to generate ideas, write to document what you said while you were on your feet talking, write to see your talk out of your head and on the page, but don’t stay there too long. Get back on your feet speaking your talk at every turn.
Here’s how I do it:
I speak my talk as I create it. Then write down what I said. Then speak it again. The re-arrange what I’ve written to match what I actually said. I go back and forth this way from writing to speaking to writing to speaking and when it comes time to “memorize” my talk, I ALREADY KNOW IT.
I know, we’ve all got different ways into our creative voices. If yours is writing, great. Do that. But don’t do it without repeatedly getting up on your feet and speaking your talk, too.
Don’t try to run through the whole talk at once until the very end of the process. Practice and drill in chunks of content. Practice the opening over and over and over again. Practice the stories you tell, each on its own. Chunk it into sections and practice each section. Practice the close. Practice the Call To Action. Practice the offer.
Practice each section until you get it. Really get it. Until you can do it with ease as if you’re doing it for the first time.
When you practice in chunks, the guideposts will naturally reveal themselves. These are specific moments in your talk where you KNOW the content, moments you can return to with ease.
With clear guideposts, when you do lose your place, or forget, or freeze, you have a specific place you know you’re going to return to and pick up from there.
When you do get around to running the whole talk, RUN IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH.
When you forget what’s next, don’t grab your notes. Just hang out there in the not knowing and see what comes. Keep speaking. This will train your brain to stay in the moment. It’ll train your brain NOT to be wedded to the notes, but to think for itself in the moment and help find your way through this gap.
After you run it all the way through, go back to your notes and double check what you left out. Find the place where you lost track and drill that section again. And again. Then when you do another run through the whole thing, do it without notes. Again and again.
Your brain will stop relying on the notes and start awakening the muscle of remembering.
Leave something out? No problem.
In fact, there’s a good chance you will leave something out. That’s ok. A talk is a living, breathing organism. It will change and grow with each audience, with each delivery of it.
So when that happens, keep moving on. Stay with your audience. Stay in the flow of your talk. Circle back if you can, but if you can’t find a way, let it go and trust that was you do say is enough.
When you leave something out, and you don’t remember till after the talk, I promise it will be something really brilliant. The best turn of a phrase. The crux of your talk. The thing that was going to be the cherry on top. The most awesome thing ever.
That’s ok too. Say darn (or use stronger language if that’s your style) and don’t get hung up on it. Just tag it, drill that spot again, and next time you won’t leave it out.
If you do, then you might reconsider whether it was actually meant for this talk.
I talk a lot about how stories are powerful. The stories you tell yourself about what’s true about you are just as powerful as the stories you tell on stage.
While you’re rehearsing your talk, you’ll forget stuff. Your patterned thinking might say “S#$%! F*&%! D*$%!! I’m an idiot! How come I keep forgetting right at that spot?! Erg. This is hopeless. I give up. I suck at memorizing!”
So right there, change the story. When you mess up or forget, say thank you. Treat it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. A doorway to deeper knowing, not a problem that needs to be fixed or a character flaw that you have to contend with.
Take a breath. Tag the moment. Practice & drill it again. Keep going. This, too, will train your brain that it’s doing good, difficult work. It’s flexing the muscle of finding its way through.
December 6th, 2018
“But it doesn’t feel natural! It doesn’t feel like me. It feels awkward, inauthentic, yucky. NOT ME!!”
I hear that all the time from my clients. When I ask them to do something that they haven’t done before, or try something different with their arms, or their focus, or their body language, or their voice. Or to tell a different kind of story than they’re used to telling, one of the biggest objections I hear is “Why would I do that? That’s not natural. That’s not me.”
Of course I want you to feel confident and comfortable and natural. I want being on stage to be your home territory, where connecting with your audience and sharing your message is totally your natural habitat. Where you know just where to get nourished, just where to get safety, just how to shield yourself from the storm. Where you feel alive and AT HOME.
Yes! Sounds great, doesn’t it? But, um, it’s not yet, is it?
Even if it is, I bet there are places you want to grow and stretch.
Yesterday I had the privilege of working with a client who was prepping a 5 minute pitch for a $10,000 pitch contest. He had a great idea, was building a product that would make a big difference in the lives of his customers, and was clearly passionate about the product he was building. But when he got up to speak about it, he dove headlong into a monotone, memorized drone.
Cracking those patterns open is pretty much what I eat for breakfast, so together we dove into the playground to help bring more of his passion to his presentation.
I invited him to go waaaaaaay out of his comfort zone and try stuff with his body and voice and face that was definitely not what he eats for breakfast.
As he stepped into these exercises, can you guess what he said? “This is unnatural. It’s not me. It feels awkward. I can’t do this.”
He said “I’m an engineer. We don’t learn how to be expressive in engineering school.”
He said it as if that was the end of the story. As if because he didn’t learn it in engineering school, it was unlearnable.
It feels unnatural because it’s not habitual. Our habits feel reeeeal comfy. We fall right into our habits with ease. We go into that groove and want to stay in that groove forever and ever. When we’re in our habits it can feel like a warm bubble bath. Because it’s so familiar. So habitual.
So that thing you do with your hands? Habit.
That way your voice lilts up at the end of each sentence? Habit.
The way your eyes graze love the entire audience without really connecting? Habit.
It could be you’re not aware of those habits at all, but I bet they feel natural. I bet they feel like you, because they’re so deeply engrained you don’t even notice you’re doing them, and they kinda become you.
If you want to expand and grow as a speaker, you’re going to need to create some new pathways, carve some new grooves, get used to new habits. Those new habits definitely won’t feel natural.
They’ll feel awkward, uncomfortable, NOT YOU.
But if you stop there and don’t do the thing because “it doesn’t feel natural,” then you’re pretty certain to stay right smack dab in the center of your comfort zone, doing fine with your unconscious, comfortable habits, but not growing and changing and rocking the house as a speaker.
Because “feeling natural” is not really what we’re after.
Ultimately, sure, once you’ve integrated your new habits, those new habits will feel like home, and feel natural, and feel like you.
But while you’re carving those new pathways, you gotta go through some discomfort, some awkwardness, some new sensations—that don’t feel natural.
And my client? He was indeed profoundly uncomfortable. But he also had some big fat fun.
My goal with him was not to make him uncomfortable, but to support him in cracking his natural habits and express more of his fervor and passion for his product–which he did.
How bout you? What habits feel natural that you know you probably need to crack? I’d love to hear!
(And P.S. My client won the $10,000 pitch contest!)
November 29th, 2018
It was either Winston Churchill or Mark Twain who said “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter so I wrote you a long one.” As is the epic journey of creating and editing your TEDx talk with a pretty rigorous time limit.
Which is part of the journey I’m on right now. The five women in my Women Who Speak Mastermind are also up against the same challenge of talk editing.
The “editing your talk” process for me has gone something like this:
When I started the process, my talk was coming in at about 14 minutes. I had a 9 minute time limit, which meant I had to cut ONE THIRD of my talk. Ouch. It felt like I was cutting off body parts. (Once you hear my talk, you’ll understand why)
I always tell my clients that it’s way harder to shorten a long talk than it is to lengthen a short talk, but it’s an extremely valuable exercise. The more you can hone in on the heart of your message in the talk editing process, the more impactful it will be.
But that’s way easier said than done! It’s one thing to know that in theory, but it’s another thing altogether to make the cuts.
At my second coaching session with the TEDx organizers, they give me 3 extra minutes! 12 whole minutes! Big fat bonus! It feels like an eternity to have 3 more minutes.
But I’m still coming in at 14. I pinch and tweak and massage and trim in service of making it shorter. I go to the wordy places and hone it and work it till I can say the same thing with fewer words.
It’s getting shorter, but every time I cut or tighten up one section I find another section to add or expand.
Noooooooo! I don’t have minutes to spare!
The other important element in this story is that I’m given the task of delivering the talk to 3 self-created audiences—including close friends, family, acquaintances and strangers.
How great it is to call on friends & colleagues to participate in the process.
so I’m grateful to have my talk in conversation with actual audiences.
It helps me get a clear picture of what’s landing and what’s not.
AND with each showing, more questions arise. More gaps are revealed. More possibilities present themselves. The talk comes apart and I have to put it all back together again.
So of course, you guessed it, each time I get feedback and try to address it, the talk gets longer. It becomes the ever-expanding talk.
BUT I remind myself I can’t please everyone. I can’t answer all the questions. No way will I be able fill all the gaps. So I remind myself to take the feedback with open ears and heart, and to stay true to what I know. Stay true to my process.
And I keep expanding and thinning.
I remember the first year I grew a garden. I planted lettuce seeds, and had so many tiny baby lettuce plants, but I didn’t want to kill any of them. Each little seedling had the potential to grow up to be a full & hearty lettuce plant. I couldn’t bear to see them die by my hand.
My gardening mentor said:
Thinning my lettuce that first year was unbearable. But I did it. I thinned ruthlessly.
Now when I work with clients I use that story a lot. I encourage them to thin ruthlessly when they’re editing their talks: Keep it simple. Keep it short. Cut any unnecessary words. Get to the essence.
But when I say it to them, I’m glad it’s them doing the thinning, not me.
I’m reminded of the words of Allen Ginsberg or William Faulkner or Oscar Wilde or Eudora Welty or Stephen King or all of them or someone else who said…
Which means don’t be precious about your words. That turn of phrase you’re so attached to may not be serving the talk. The story you really really want to tell may just be a derailment from the message.
So feel your feet on the ground, take a big full breath into your belly, and make the cuts with an exhale. There probably won’t be blood, but there might be some tears.
That will all pay off in the end because your message will be sharper and clearer and your audience will actually hear what you have to say.
So here I am, taking the time to write the short talk instead of the long one, thinning ruthlessly, killing my darlings.
Ouch. My arm. My leg. My belly. Ouch.
August 20th, 2018
One of the most common concerns I hear from people who are on the path to speaking is “I’m afraid I’m being judged!”
I hear it all the time. The same fear comes in all shapes and sizes.
They’ll say I’m not an expert. They’ll roll their eyes. They’ll ridicule me. They’ll be bored. If I lose my place, they’ll lose respect. If I fumble, they’ll decide I’m unworthy. They’ll judge my story, my voice, my body, my outfit, my front tooth.
Here’s the big news,
You might know that I host a story slam in Boulder. It’s a storytelling event where we offer a theme for the night, and anyone in the audience who has a true, 5-minute story based on the theme can put their name in the hat. If their name gets picked, they come to the stage to tell a story.
At the end of the night, the audience votes on the best story. And there’s a winner. But mostly it’s about being in a room together and telling stories.
That said, if you get up and tell a story,
PEOPLE WILL JUDGE YOU.
But here’s the thing:
As you’re saying that, the audience is asking themselves:
What does this person have to say that will make a difference in my life?
Which pretty much means that in some way, they’re judging you.
And judgment looks a whole lotta different ways:
They’re asking: Does this person get me? How is this person like me? How are they different? Can I learn anything from this person? Is listening worth my time? Does this person have what it takes to inspire me? To move me? To change my life?
They might think you’re the most amazing thing since sliced bread.
They might and worship and adore you.
They might tell their friends how wise (or brilliant, or amazing, or edgy, or smart) you are.
Or, maybe they didn’t sleep too well last night, or had a fight with their partner, or feel bad about themselves, or lost a pet that morning, or lost a client, or have been months without a new client, or feel jealous of you, or wish they were you.
Maybe they want to be a speaker and aren’t.
Maybe they already thought the thing you’re saying and wish they said it first.
Maybe they’re uncomfortable in their chair. Or their shoes. Or their body. Or their heart.
They might judge you for losing your place,
for the shape of your body,
for saying um,
for not being an expert,
for your outfit.
They might judge you for the story you tell
for your voice
for your shoes,
for the way you walk.
They might judge you for your front tooth.
You still wanna speak? Or are you ready to throw in the towel?
Who in the world would want to speak when you’re getting that kind of judgment thrown at you?
SOUNDS HARSH, RIGHT?
Yep. You got it.
There’s a good chance you’re judging you way harder than they are.
When I work with a client who’s prepping for a presentation, I always get them on their feet to deliver their talk. We work, we take a pause and then we chat about how that went.
It’s astonishing to me how many people want to start with all the things that went terribly wrong. (Of course the terrible is only their perception of terrible…)
It’s great to look at ways to improve, and things to work on. But when you’re taking a big leap, trying something bold, stepping out of your comfort zone, of course you’re not gonna be perfect.
THAT’S THE POINT!!
Let’s start with all the things you’re doing RIGHT.
Let’s start with what you’ve already got dialed in.
Let’s breathe life into the spots where you’re already brilliant.
So yeah. People will judge you. They will. They just will.
So if you’re gonna put yourself out to the (kind, compassionate, mostly very generous) crowds of humans, and risk judgement, you gotta dig deep into your own well, stay true to your message, stay true to the thing you care most deeply about, STOP THE NONSENSE of your own self-judgement, and SPEAK!
Speak what you need to speak. Change the lives you’re here to change.
And when people judge you, (BECAUSE THEY WILL!) you can flick it off your shoulder like a tiny gnat, and keep moving forward, keep speaking your truth, keep changing the world by being you.
What’s your strategy?
July 20th, 2018
A few weeks ago I wrote about different ways to use a pause when speaking. One of the best pauses to get friendly with is the “I’ve gone totally blank and can’t remember what the heck I was gonna say next” pause. In Tuesday’s Speaker’s Playground, that got us talking about that exact moment…
The “I can’t remember what the heck I was gonna say next, I’m totally blank, all words are gone from my head, as in totally gonzo, and here I am standing in the deep abyss of nothingness…
The next thing I was gonna say is the most brilliant thing ever but it is nowhere to be found in the deep crevices of my mind and body and a whole bunch of people staring at me waiting for the next word and I AM TOTALLY BLANK” moment.
Do you know that moment? I do.
I’m pulling back the curtain and sharing some stories of blank moments for me, and times I’ve witnessed another speaker go blank, with suggestions for a few different ways for you to deal with BLANK when BLANK happens.
One of the most terrifying blanks I’ve ever experienced was a few years ago when I was giving a very personal talk to an audience of about 300 people. I was not as prepared as I would want you or me or anyone to be when giving a talk that is no small deal. But alas, there I was, unprepared and totally blank.
I got to a point in the very scripted and timed talk where I had NO IDEA what words came next.
NO FREAKIN IDEA.
Here’s what I did: First, I felt the immense terror of HOLY COW I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S NEXT. The operative word here is felt. I felt it instead of running from it or ignoring it or stuffing it away. Yes, it was terrifying. And I felt the sensation of the terror roll through my body.
Then I waited, breathed, felt my feet on the ground. I connected with the audience by noticing they were there in the room with me. I didn’t panic or apologize or stammer and stumble or freak out about whether or not I was going to remember
I waited for the words to come and stayed deeply with the sensation in my body, my breath and with my audience in that moment. I held that moment as long as I could. It felt like an immense eternity. In actuality, yes it was a long pause, but to the audience, it just felt like a long, on purpose, dramatic pause.
Then I knew I had to say some words. I repeated the last line I’d said (see tip 2 below) and inhaled to continue. Even when I inhaled, I had no idea which words would come out. But there they were, right at the top of the inhale, the next words. I let out a big internal exhale of relief and carried on. (Here’s a link to the spot in the talk where this happened.)
This is like backing up and getting a running start.
Sometimes when I’m speaking, my brain gets ahead of itself and loses track of what’s next. When I back up for a do-over, and repeat the line I just said, the thought catches up. When you repeat the line, repeat it with the intention of emphasis. It’s as if you’re saying “I’m repeating these words because I really want you to hear them.” (Not because I can’t remember what to say next.) You gotta sell it.
Here’s the moment in that same talk when I did this.
The thing is, even when I said the line twice, the words didn’t come. I managed to stall, and take my running start. But even in repeating that line, the words I wanted to say didn’t come. I said something else, which totally worked, but it wasn’t what I’d planned. Which brings me to the next point.
No matter how prepared you are, there’s a good chance you’ll forget something. You’ll leave out a brilliant line. You’ll go blank and say something you didn’t intend to say. THAT’S OK. Plan NOW for leaving out those beautifully crafted words. It will happen.
There’s a good chance you won’t forget them the next time you give the talk. If you do, they probably weren’t meant for that talk anyway. All that to say is don’t get too attached to your perfectly crafted talk. It has a life of its own and will change as you give it–with or without intention.
So let go, move on, get over it, and keep speaking.
In the middle of a memorable talk I heard at Emerging Women Conference a few years ago, the speaker went blank on stage. First she paused, and hung out in the pause for a couple of breaths, which was fine. I had no idea she was lost. Then she came clean. She said “I have no idea what’s next.” The whole audience cheered. What a vulnerable, terrifying moment that she completely let us in on.
Her assistant in the audience gave her the next line, and she carried on. After this moment of complete transparency, she was more connected, more present, more relaxed. The audience was with her. All pretense was gone. She delivered the rest of the talk with ease and breath. And that’s the talk from the entire conference that has stayed with me longest.
Indeed, this is not choice number 1. But I did it here. And I didn’t die. Nothing bad happened.
Sure it might have been “better” to pause, and slow down, and wait for the words. But we don’t always make the optimal choice in the moment! We do our best, and then we move on.
And if you stumble a little, don’t beat yourself up. A fews ums, ahs and stumbles are not going to make or break your talk. Let it go. You’re human. We like your humanity. We want humans speaking to us, not robots. The more you let us see your humanity, the more we like you.
It’s true that you’re more likely to go blank when you’re not prepared. Trust me, I know from experience.
So take the time and prepare. Get that talk into your bones. Give yourself time to make it yours. With practice, there’s more space to speak it from your heart and feel the pauses. Then you won’t be thrown by something unexpected that might come your way, and own that talk inside and out. (Here are some tips for practicing your talk.)
However you find your way through the blank, do your best to STAY PRESENT. STAY IN THE ROOM. KEEP BREATHING. TRUST YOURSELF. We, the audience, are on your side. The audience wants you to succeed. They want the wealth of your expertise. They want to hear your story. So take a breath, and tell us.
What do you think? Can’t wait to have a moment of blank so you can try out these ideas? That’s the spirit! Hit reply and tell me how you survived your last moment of blank. Or send a word when you survive your next one. I’d love to hear!
Here’s to fun in the blank!
June 22nd, 2018
A couple of weeks ago I talked about how to lose the dreaded (or beloved, as the case may be) filler words. (Um, and, so, uh, y’know, really…etc). Here’s that post if you missed it. One of the key ways to get rid of filler words is to PAUSE, so that’s what I’m gonna talk about today…
Learning to play with pauses can transform your speaking, (and yourself!).
I’m talking about the integrated, spacious, heart-centered, connectable pause. Not the awkward, heavy, forced, is-she-ok? pause.
Here are a few reasons why pauses are the bomb:
1. It gives your audience space to integrate what you’re saying. Rather than shoving word after word down their throat, you give them space to let your message land and resonate. Your audience will be grateful when you do that because it will help them get your message.
2. It gives your brain an opportunity to catch up with your mouth. Your mouth seems to think if it just keeps filling the space with words, no one will notice that you’re actually there, saying stuff, claiming your authority, conveying to the world that you have something to say. When you pause, you catch up with yourself, then your voice, breath, heart, mind, and body are all on the same page.
3. It shows the audience that you’re in charge. You own the space. You’re not being driven by your nerves, or the clock, or any urgency to fill the space. You OWN it. Your power shines. A pause communicates that.
4. It connects you to your breath. Breath is an intimacy creator. If you’re connected to your breath, it’s more likely that your audience is connected to theirs, and listening, and engaged, and feeling connected to you. That equals intimacy with your audience. A pause can also remind you to breathe. And when you’re breathing mindfully, your breath can remind you to pause.
5. It adds meaning to your speech. Well-placed pauses convey meaning. They help your audience understand what you’re trying to say. They serve as a cue to the audience that lets them know what’s coming next, what’s important, and what they need to remember
OK so you know that pauses are the bomb, but how in the world do you remember to pause when you’re speaking? And not just have a bunch of dead air surrounding you?
I was a slam poet back in the early days of slam poetry. In fact, reading at poetry slams (different from the story slam I co-produce) was a big part of how I learned to speak with power and presence…but that’s another story.
I was living in Baltimore and went to a poetry slam at the Baltimore Contemporary Art Museum. The vibe was raucous and loud, with the audience hooting and hollering and carrying on. Each poet would come to the stage, basically yell their poem and try to speak louder than the audience.
When it was my turn, I went to the mic and stood in a long silent pause until you could hear a pin drop in that space. Then I spoke my poem into that silence.
I felt like I owned the world.
There’s nothing like a powerful pause the moment you walk on stage to communicate to the audience that you’re the one in charge and have them lean in to hear what you’re going to say.
I confess that when I gave my talk “A Long Drink of Water,” I was less prepared that I could have been, and in fact was editing my talk in the dressing room right before the show. Which meant I didn’t have it in my bones the way I like to and the way I encourage my clients to.
So when I went TOTALLY BLANK and found myself deep in the vast void of emptiness and terror, with NO CLUE what to say next, I just paused. I leaned into the pause and stayed in the room. I didn’t panic, or run, or fill the space with a bunch of words.
For a long time I paused. An uncomfortably long time. But I sold the pause, so it looks like I knew exactly what I was doing. Turns out it was a powerful pause and just the right spot.
The Pause Gods must have been paying attention.
You know how when you’re writing or reading, you’ve got commas, periods, new paragraphs & new chapters.
Your eye pauses briefly at the comma, a little longer at the period, still longer at the new paragraph. At the new chapter maybe you put the book down and look up at the sky for a minute. Try that with speaking.
Try a short pause at a comma, a longer pause at a period, and a still longer pause at a new thought. When you’re shifting gears altogether, pause substantially, perhaps as you move to a new spot on the stage.
Your pause signals to the audience: “Take a break here. I’m shifting gears. Now come with me to a new place. Here we go….”
If you slow down enough and pause with the punctuation, that will help you notice the filler words that are slipping in, and serve as a reference point for future pausing.
Once you’ve got your punctuation pauses down, identify the power moments in your talk. Words or phrases that you know you want your audience to hear.
When you speak these words, allow for a pause after the word or phrase. Let the words land. Don’t run away from your own power. Feel the resonance of your words in the hearts of your audience. Don’t steamroll over these power moments. Give them space.
When you feel the power of your words, you won’t want to fill them up with UMs and AHs. You’ll get a glimpse of your own power and say “Yeah howdy, that feels good!”
Ask a question. A question that invites your audience to consider a new perspective, a question that challenges their previous thinking.
But here’s the magic trick: When you ask the question, REALLY ASK! You’d be surprised how many people ask a question and then roll right on to the next thing.
When you ask a question, pause and let your audience consider the question. Even if they’re not answering it aloud, it’s important that you give them a pause to let it land.
This is different from the “I’ve gone completely blank” pause because you really are thinking. In the I’ve gone blank pause, your brain has gone into flight or freeze mode and you have to breathe your way back to the present moment.
In the “I’m thinking” pause, you haven’t frozen–you really are thinking. Give yourself the space to think. The big mistake speakers so often make is that they think they have to keep talking, so when they hit this spot, they just yak and yak and ramble their way through it.
You get to pause and think. You get to consider the next thing you’re going to say until you know what it is. Don’t apologize, don’t make excuses, don’t panic. Just pause and think.
Pausing can be uncomfortable. Sometimes it seems easier to race right through, ram it all out there and then leave. We’ve been working with pauses in The Speaker’s Playground for the last few weeks, and I always ask folks to pause longer than is comfortable. Then longer. And yep, even longer.
They’re thinking “You’re crazy! I can’t pause that long!! My audience will fall asleep!!” When in fact, what feels like an interminably long pause to you is, in most cases, a pause that truly invites your audience IN to a deeper connection.
So being willing to hang in with that discomfort is a valuable skill.
Plus, when you lean in to the discomfort, rather than running from it, you get to bring more of yourself to your presentation. You start to notice what it feels like for YOU to be in the drivers seat rather than your nerves.
And that discomfort becomes a battery pack for your power.
Notice the possibility for real connection and presence right at the center of that pause.
If you want some practice opportunities to play with your pause, come join me in The Speaker’s Playground. There’s a Tuesday evening group and a Thursday morning group in Boulder, CO. Your first session is free, so you’re welcome to come check it out.
Email us to let us know when you’d like to visit, and we’ll send all the details.
June 14th, 2018
February 5th, 2018
I want to talk about breath. Breath is what it’s all about. Breath is the foundation. Breath is where it all begins and where it all ends.
If you’re out there speaking, or even if you’re in here speaking, you’re not going to get very far without breath.
If you’re telling a hilarious story, you gotta have breath.
If you’re selling something super cool, you gotta have breath.
If you’re speaking some hard truth, you gotta have breath.
On and on. You get the idea.
More and more with my clients I am backing way up and starting with breath.
Seriously. When your mind spins out on a nutcase trip to the land of “I suck and I’m a loser and what was I thinking giving this talk anyway,” the #1 thing you can do is…
Yes, you guessed it…
Take it back to the breath.
Take it right back to square one.
Where it all began.
Your breath will bring you back to your body. When you’re back in your body, your voice will remember that it lives there, not in the shady crevices of your mind. When your voice is truly coming through your body, it can’t help but vibrate through your heart.
And when all that’s happening at once? Your mind (that’s running at the mouth with lies about your worthiness) is like, “Um…hey…what’s going on here? Where’s my couch? Are you kicking me out? Evicting me? Wait…let me in. I’ll bring chocolate.”
And you, full in your breath, inhabiting your body, vibrating in the depth of your voice, rich in big-hearted heartfulness, you’re like “Uh-uh. Not until you lighten up on the ‘I suck’ business”
Like that. So right now. Sit back in your chair. Take a big full wide deep breath all the way into your belly. As in let your belly get full and big and round with breath. Let the breath go into your ribcage and your back and your pelvis. Yes. Like that.
Not only will it quiet your mind, but it will give you way more resonant vocal power for your voice to shine its light in the world.
Just in case you want some more support around getting that quadrafecta of your VOICE, BODY, BREATH, and HEART all on the same page, to support your SPEAKING POWER any time you take the stage, any time you walk into a room, check out SPEAKER’S PLAYGROUND, an ongoing practice & coaching group for speakers and speaker-wanna-be’s who are ready to (re)claim their speaking power.
November 5th, 2017
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of supporting my 6-year-old friend Raya in LEARNING HOW TO RIDE A BIKE!
We’ve been pals for a while, so we trust each other. When we hang out, we laugh a lot and we have fun. We teach each other new things all the time.
Raya’s been working on this for a little while.
Her bike doesn’t have training wheels, so she needs grown-up support to make it happen. She sits up on her bike, rolls along, looks around at the scenery.
Sometimes she forgets to pay attention to steering the ship because the scenery is so awesome.
When she gets scared, she stops pedaling. Here we are:
A month or so ago she was riding down a hill with her mom supporting her, and she fell, cracked her lip, lots of blood, a big story.
She was very excited to tell me about it, and the next couple of times we went to the park, we got to the hill and she got off her bike to walk down the hill.
Last week when we practiced, we got to the hill and she started to get off her bike, so I said “Why don’t we ride down this time? I’ll hold you really carefully.”
“Promise I won’t fall?”
“Well I can’t promise you won’t fall, but I’m pretty sure you won’t fall. I can promise I’ll be there to scoop you up and give you a big hug if you do fall.”
She was cool with that, but even just the idea of riding down the hill made her scream.
So when she screamed I said
Then I made weird super scared screamy sounds as we started down, which cracked Raya up, so I screamed all the way down the hill and she scream-laughed all the way down, and then we started scream-laughing every time we got scared.
At the bottom of the hill, I let go, and she balanced on her bike for a few seconds, which really freaked her out, so she scream-laughed some more.
As we rolled down the hill I urged her along “Keep pedaling, look where you’re going, and SCREAM!”
That became our mantra. “Keep pedaling. Look where you’re going. And SCREAM!”
That and “I got this.”
She’s doing great. And we’re having a blast.
The reason I’m telling YOU this is because if you’re out there on the speaking journey, learning to ride that bike, Raya and I have a few words of wisdom to share:
1. KEEP PEDALING!
When I told Raya to keep pedaling, she asked “Why?”
I said, “Because it helps your body find the balance.” It’s way harder to balance on your bike when you’re standing still. The pedaling helps your whole body figure out how to balance the bike. Coasting is a fine thing once you’ve got the balance and momentum, but if you try coasting before you’re balancing?
When you’re on the path to speaking, it’s way easy to get stuck trying to come up with a perfect talk title, or thinking you’re story’s not ready yet, or being not exactly 100% sure who your audience is, or believing your fear, or wondering where in the world you can speak while you sit on the couch eating bonbons.
That’s not gonna get you very far.
Just. Keep. Pedaling.
I tell all my clients to put a stake in the ground and keep moving forward.
Come up with a title. Change it later if you need to. Make that speakers hit list of places you want to speak, even if you don’t know if it’s a great fit. If your self-doubt demons are keeping you from even writing the talk, take a breath and write a shitty first draft.
Just. Keep. Pedaling.
Pedaling will help your body find balance. It helps your body figure out just how this whole thing works.
2. LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING
You gotta keep your eyes open. I tell Raya, “If you look where you’re going, your body and your bike will figure out how to get there.”
You don’t have to understand how it works. Just trust that if you look where you’re going, you’ll get there. If you look at the bumps and at how steep the hill is, that’s all that you’ll see and they will seem way larger than they are.
So that means get clear about where you’re headed.
Why do you want to speak in the first place? Whose lives will you change by sharing your message? How will it feel to stand in your power and claim the power of your voice? How will your business grow once you take the stage? What doors will open when you claim your place as a thought leader?
Keep your eye on THAT, not the obstacles. Not the indecision or the bumpy road or the hill that makes you feel like you might fall.
Just keep your eyes on where you’re going.
Which brings me to…
3. DON’T DO IT ALONE
Because having someone steady the bike while you get on it, and support you on the way while you find your balance, makes all the difference.
And when you do fall, having someone there to scoop you up and hug you while you cry makes falling seem not so bad after all.
This is the best part!
Going downhill when you’re not sure how to balance is scary as all get out. So let yourself scream while you do it. It might even make you start laughing. In fact, I suggest screaming until you do laugh.
Seriously. Promise. It will make a difference.
I’m not talking about metaphorical screams here. I’m talking actual voice and breath and sound screams.
That will connect you to all the powers of your voice. It will connect you to your body. It will connect you to your power. It will make you laugh. It will open new doors of expression. It will make your speaking way better…
and it will get you down that hill. (or up, as the case may be)
At one point in one of our recent practice times Raya said “oooh I know I’m gonna fall this time.”
And I said “Let’s swap that out for ‘I know how to ride this bike. I got this.’”
Which she eagerly did. With a scream.
So keep pedaling.
Look where you’re going.
Don’t do it alone…
Then come home and tell a story about it.
Here’s to lots of big hills and screaming your way down!