My presentation secret

I’d like to let you in on a little secret.

A secret that can hold a key to more confident, joyful presentations and presentation presence. Ready? Here it is:

Keep a secret in your shoe.

A penny, a piece of paper, a picture, anything. You decide.

“Keep a secret in your shoe, smile about what you know that others could never guess, and use it to keep you in contact with the ground. Feel the secret in your shoe, to help you keep in touch with the gift you’re trying to deliver. Perhaps most importantly, use the secret to keep you from taking yourself so seriously.”

This was the advice I received from a dear mentor of mine before a big presentation a few weeks ago.

I wrote, “This will be awesome” on a small scrap of paper and could feel it nestled under my left foot as I facilitated my session.

Keep a secret in your shoe that’s only for you to know about. Shhhhh. Is it working?

The comfort of uncomfortable learning

The elevator was filled with chatter. A gaggle of students had just finished lecture and were fired up – commenting on and complaining about the class….a class that I, for one, was absolutely loving.

I listened, and asked a few what they were unhappy with, eager to understand their frustration.

In many ways, my excitement seemed predictable – the class was full of material I already fully believed in and understood, taught in a way that resonated with me – stories, images, metaphors, etc. It was wonderful, it was inspiring… and it was…comfortable. Perhaps, too comfortable for meaningful change to take place.

When the semester finished I made my way to the Professor’s office, eager to understand the dynamics of the class and the learning journey he created.

He described the predictable learning journey of the majority of the students, from skeptical or even resistant to, by the end, inspired and on-board.

He made it clear he wasn’t trying to change anyone’s mind or convince his learners to adopt his point of view. This was not his tactic.

He worked to deeply understand his students, acknowledge their uncomfortable-ness and worked smarter, not harder, to bring them into the story of the narrative he was telling.

I marveled at his ability and empathy to both understand his learners and guide positive change.

I reflected on other learning experiences that felt uncomfortable and why, several months later, the learning set in more profoundly than ever.

How often do we purposefully sign up for learning experiences that feel outside our comfort zone, and stick with them? And, how often do we utilize and understand the experience of our fellow learners to help make sense of and process our experience?

We can’t and shouldn’t assume that our learning experience is anything other than deeply personal, but that doesn’t mean it should always be comfortable.

One small step for spontaneity…

In a recent podcast interview with my friend Mark Guay, I touched upon the myth that Improvisers are merely “winging it” and perhaps wildly unprepared.

Behind the scenes, we practice (and practice some more) a set of principles that guide us and give us a wonderful structure to navigate the ambiguity we have on stage when we are improvising.

When it comes to presentations and speeches, it is possible to over-prepare and in doing so, squash opportunities for spontaneity or connection with your audience.

If you want to add some spontaneity to your presentations, classes, or public speaking opportunities, completely throwing away a script isn’t necessary either.

Patricia Ryan Madson, Improv Guru and author of Improv Wisdom offers a spectacular tip for morphing scripted notes into an opportunity for more spontaneity:

Her advice? Turn your notes into a series of questions to answer. For example, your notes might look like this: 

1) Why am I here today?

2) What is the learning objective?

3) What am I most excited to share with you?

This small change still gives you the comfort and clarity that comes with a structure to fall back on, while also allowing room for a conversational, breathable, and perhaps more empathetic approach. Try this out and let me know how it goes!

What’s the drill – February 20: A creative confidence booster

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According to Tom Kelley of IDEO, a fear of being judged is the number-one reason why we’re not more creative.

It’s not due to a lack of ability…this is a matter of creative confidence.

We all have the natural ability to come up with novel ideas (yes yes, even you shaking your head in the back of the room). But not everyone has the courage to act on these ideas.

What if we did? How could increasing our creative confidence change our self-image and our capacity to have influence on the world?

Kelley’s mission to boost (nay, rocket fuel) the creative confidence of others is one I find myself equally passionate about.

Unlocking your creative potential can start with a simple re-frame of how you present your creative ideas. Here’s an example straight from Professor William Duggan at Columbia Business School:

When we present ideas we often end by asking the age-old question, “so what do you think?”. A useful question, yes, but one that can open the door for negative feedback and instant confidence deflation.

What if instead we simply said, “anything to add to my idea?”.

Presented in this way, we’re immediately signaling that there is room for the initial idea to expand. We still expect and desire honest feedback, but with a slight re-frame we are boosting collaboration, and hopefully over time, creative self-efficacy.

What facilitators can learn from Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show debut

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Last night as I watched Jimmy Fallon make his debut as new host of The Tonight show, I was struck by the ease, comfort, and safety that Fallon exhibited as he welcomed a presumably new audience to his show.

It was akin to the skill a great facilitator utilizes when beginning a new learning experience with his or her participants.

Though these two roles are inherently different, and stylistic differences are what help make both jobs a real art form, there are fundamental choices Fallon made that educators, speakers, presenters, and facilitators can absolutely learn from:

Fallon helped create psychologically safety and established a dialogue with his audience in these 2 ways:

  • He made his thinking visible – Strong facilitators know how to engage adult learners by showing them the learning path and extravert-ing their thinking. Fallon told us the basic structure of his show, how long his monologue would be, and even where he’d stand when he delivered the opening set of jokes. Though it seemed like a small gesture, it worked to set a new routine and let the audience know what they could expect each night, and how they would get there.
  • Auto-biographical disclosure – This is perhaps the most impressive technique Fallon utilized, and the most direct application to what we do as facilitators. Fallon spent several minutes at the top of his show, introducing himself, his background, his band and his announcer to bring people into the experience, add authenticity and personalization, and put new viewers at ease. As Dr. Stephen Brookfield theorizes, the more an educator or facilitator can use appropriate autobiographical disclosure, the quicker you can bring adults into ‘the learning’. For example, in a class on adult learning a facilitator can use autobiographical disclosure to briefly talk about his or her experience as a learner and how its framed his or her approach. By telling the story of his own history of watching and admiring The Tonight Show, Fallon also exhibited experiential credibility, by letting the audience know that the experiences (and perhaps new-ness) he dealt with are similar if not the same.

Journalists, bloggers and critics are praising Fallon for these specific, ‘smart’ choices — but they don’t need to be reserved for talk show hosts. Think about the last time you felt “safe” in a new learning environment. Chances are your facilitator exhibited some, if not all of these same techniques.

The power of a “Power Pose”

How much space do you take up? No, we’re not talking about oxygen or your belongings. Literally, when you stand or sit, or enter a room, how much space do you take up and how do you convey that to others?

This is one of the tenants of “Status” – a tool Improvisers use to communicate, influence, empathize, and… play. Status is present in our every day lives and asks us to consider how we act, talk, and feel along a continuum of submission to dominance.

We can choose our status. It is ever in flux. Choosing our status can help us gain the confidence to own the stage.

Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School does a wonderful job of teaching us how to play with status, how being more mindful of status and body language helps shift us neurologically to act the way we want to feel.

Want to learn how? 

Or watch her TED talk, here.

A power pose is one way. What else triggers you and helps you act the way you want to feel?

What’s the drill – February 22: Know your objective

‎”Whenever someone comes to me for help, I listen very hard and ask myself, ‘What does this person really want? And what will they do to keep from getting it?” – William Perry, Harvard Professor of Education

Navigating life without a script means finding the balance between freedom and structure. For Improvisers, it means getting clear on the basics of the scene, feeling grounded in the structure so that we can move and build new ideas with complete freedom.

A trick we use to keep us centered, motivated, and able to navigate ambiguity is to know our objective in the scene. What is it that my character wants, and why?

Once we get clear on these answers, a scene can really flow.

But, how often do we go into a scene, a meeting, a phone call, a class, an opportunity and truly know what our objective is?

Getting clear on our objective does more than just help you – it helps your partner in crime. If I don’t know what it is you want, how can I support you?

For me, the most memorable Improv scenes to watch and to play in are those where characters have a clear objective that comes from a very truthful, sometimes vulnerable place. For example, they don’t just want to win the science fair, but they want someone to tell them how great they are… for the very first time.

Having a clear objective is a way to measure change. Did we get what we wanted? Did it mean something to us? What’s my temperature reading before and after? How am I progressing?

When I’m coaching Improvisers or those in a professional development setting, it’s common for people to either not have an objective or to not verbalize it.

We can’t always think of the objective spontaneously, but we can tune into the character, or ourselves to think about what is it that I really want? Sometimes it takes some work, and some encouragement:

  1. Know the “why”, not only the “what” – figure out why your objective matters to you. Sometimes asking “The Five Why’s” can help with this. 
  2. Be open to your objective changing. Don’t hold so fast to it that you close yourself off.
  3. Finally – don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 

 

 

The Presentation Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making, via HBR

If your New Years resolutions include improving your presentation skills, you’ll want to check out this recent study and article from Harvard Business Review. Has this happened to you…?

“During an interview, your potential new boss asks you to briefly describe your qualifications. At this moment, you have a single objective: be impressive. So you begin to rattle off your list of accomplishments…”

…and before you know it, 5 minutes have gone by. Fear kicks in, the clock is running, and we resort to lists instead of the big picture.

Getting clear, concise and specific in an interview, presentation, or meeting isn’t always easy, especially if we are focusing on the quantity of our material as opposed to the quality.

Naturally, our instincts tell us so because of a phenomenon called “Presenter’s Paradox”… the assumption that more is better.

“More is actually not better, if what you are adding is of lesser quality than the rest of your offerings. Highly favorable or positive things are diminished or diluted in the eye of the beholder when they are presented in the company of only moderately favorable or positive things.”

So if more is not the answer, what do we do? 

  1. Consider choosing a new objective – “be impressive” sounds fine, but we owe it ourselves to really understand and get clear on our objective, and work backwards from there. Improvisers choose every action based on their character’s objective and it does wonders to help them inform the scene and navigate the unknown.
  2. Less lists, more stories – use storytelling to help focus on the big picture. Turn your bullet-point accomplishments into key story points with a beginning, middle and end. Look to the Story Spine for help on this one.
  3. Ask yourself “The 5 Why’s” to help you get clear and specific.
  4. Remember that even though you’re in the hot seat, the interview or presentation isn’t all about you. Follow the improviser guideline of “making your partner look good” by finding opportunities for connection, commonality and interaction.