The Secret Key to IGNITING Performance

Picture this: a lively audience of 500 hooting and hollering. A group of twelve competitively selected speakers, all with a lot of gumption and varying degrees of speaking experience. The challenge: to present an idea, message or story in five minutes, make it entertaining and keep it short. 5 minutes. 20 timed slides. Then you’re out.

Last week, I had my five minutes of performing fame:  How I Dumped Denial: 60 is NOT the new 40. I had a blast!!!

Always on the lookout for what makes a performance or event great, I made some observations about why the Ignite model works so well and offer them to you along with one secret key.

Why it works

Ignite Seattle is run by a staff of volunteers, who work together as an energized, well-organized team. Special bonus: they appear to like each other!

After hosting 36 events, the team has their procedures down–although at Ignite Seattle #36 they weren’t afraid to innovate or stir things up a bit. This Ignite included a make-your-own art section of the lobby as well as a play-with-a-costume photo booth.

The staff took care of us speakers, helping us to relax and prepare. Whereas some event organizers might say, “You’re selected/good luck,” Ignite offered us two advance opportunities for workshopping/practicing our talks–along with FREE DINNER and wine! Free food and great coaching is a winning combo! We were on an accelerated timeline to prepare our talks, and at the rehearsals, I watched as topics transformed, including my own. I can’t tell you how useful it is to try out material on a real audience rather than that not-always-agreeable face in the mirror.

The organizers take care of their audiences as well. They know their typical audience demographics and interests, and they take time to welcome everybody and then set up expectations. Ignite is not the MOTH (that quasi-professional story-event out of New York City, where people ultra fine-tune their talks). Nah, we were regular folks with something to share, and our Master of Ceremonies invited the audience to really support us.

They did that in spades. I’ve never experienced a more positive audience. I ended my talk with a little audience participation exercise; they complied with gusto–without missing a beat!

Now for the Secret Ingredient: Make it fun!

The audience was primed for fun–you felt it in the air. They entered the theatre after socializing and making art, and their mood was upbeat. The organizers were playful as well. They handed out a little box of dates to everyone so we could all break a Ramadan fast with one of the speakers; we closed with a bit of improvisational comedy.

One of the secrets to having fun as a speaker is to practice a lot. I did. Not just endlessly repeating a script, but walking my talk, miming my talk, finding ways to mix it up until the essence of what I wanted to say settled into my bones.

I can focus more on fun when I don’t have to worry about my words.

In the theatre, I had one job: to enjoy the audience. I knew if I had fun, the audience would have fun. That worked!

FUN

Feeling

Unleashed, and

Natural

 

I coach presenters, and I’m going to underscore this secret: whether your topic is serious or light–if you are enjoying yourself, that spirit will radiate and help people connect with you.

And when audience members are having fun, they just might remember what you said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s your legacy (story)?

 

I’ve spent the weekend writing about legacy stories, a special part of the world of storytelling, in which you look back at your past, while still moving ahead.

Often, a legacy story is one that you can pass down to another generation of people who care about you. But not necessarily. You might want to create one that’s for your eyes only, a way to acknowledge choices you made and from which you find extra meaning.

You may be thinking, “But I’m too young for a legacy!” which is another way to say, “I’m hoping to be around for a while yet.”

Taking a look at the paths your footsteps have followed and the patterns they have made along the way might help you make better decisions TODAY about how you want to live going forward.

And there may be people in your life–even a lot of them–who would appreciate knowing more about you. How I wish I could read the words of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, etc. who passed without telling me much about their lives.

I’m still kicking myself for not asking more questions of them when they were around.

Still, you don’t have to share anything and your story might end up being for your eyes only.

A few reasons for creating a legacy story:

  1. Working on your legacy story can help you find more peace about your life.
  2. It might change how you see your life today.
  3. You may gain ideas about how you want to live in the time ahead.
  4. People who care about you will be very grateful.
  5. You can sell the screen rights for millions of dollars.  (Might be a little exaggerated…but it’s not too hard to make a video).

Your story doesn’t have to be monumental

People may shy away from thinking about a legacy story because it sounds so grandiose. But it doesn’t have to be! I’m into simple and small these days (in a world that’s anything but), and you can make your story as small and abridged as you like.

For now, forget about creating the big-deal-definitive-study of your life. (Your compelling memoir can come later…)

Think of your legacy story more like a curated show about your life rather than the big retrospective.

You display a few of your interesting pictures (scenes of your life), but you don’t have to display the full collection.

I would have been happy with any show about my Grandfather.

A close friend has been working on her “legend” story–a kind of legacy–and I’m privileged to be able to read it. She explored her past for key themes, events, and people, weaving them into a rich tapestry of metaphors, using the archetype of The Hero’s Journey as background to her work. Her legend opens up new creative possibilities for what she may do over her next thirty years.

(Factoid: did you know that legend and legacy share the same Indio-European root, “leg,” meaning “to collect, gather,” related to “to speak” and “to gather words, to pick out words.”)

How you can start

Here’s one way NOT to start: don’t ask, “What’s my legacy story?”  The question is too big and too vague.

Instead, see if you can remember memories of specific incidents and people who have moved you. Your heart is a better story-teller than your head working alone. You want to engage your feelings and senses rather than your editorial brain–the one that likes to polish and puff up a “good story” about your life.

While you may have a sleek version of a story you use for job interviews (or if someone actually wants to listen to you for more than five minutes at a networking event), you don’t need to add shine to your legacy.

Your life, as you have lived it, is plenty interesting without extra gloss. In fact, part of what makes your legacy story interesting is finding out where you have a few warts hidden, and how you may have screwed up, fallen (metaphorically), skinned your knee, and recovered.

My friend and colleague Juliet Bruce has helped many people from different walks of life find their stories using the Hero’s Journey framework. She suggests the following:

“Ask a person not to remember, not to talk in generalities, but to ask story questions about their lives. What was your wedding day like, tell me about your wedding day? Very specific scenes in their lives. What music played around the birth of your child? Get people into their senses, their sense memories and whole beautiful stories of decades emerge.”

Juliet invites people to use the Hero’s Journey as a powerful, archetypal framework through which to look at their legacies.

“Using The Hero’s Journey paradigm people find that their lives were not a waste, in fact, they were very beautiful lives no matter how ordinary they were. They made choices that were the best choices they could make in the moment. They endured, they carried on, and they made it to this age.

And now, faced with the frailties of the human body and sometimes the mind, [particularly if they are older]  they still have great wisdom and a sense of continuity to share with younger people.”

Your legacy story can reveal what is fundamental and good about you, and what you did right while allowing plenty of space for the flawed parts as well.

You did enough

As someone with a noisy inner critic who sits on my shoulder like a monkey throwing off banana peels and wise-ass comments, like, “Who do you think you are?” and “You haven’t done enough,” the idea of acknowledging both the good and the difficult parts is daunting.

I gained hope watching the closing scene in the film Schindler’s List. Otto Schindler, after saving the lives of so many Jews who worked in his factory during the Holocaust, crumples before his beneficiaries and wails that he didn’t do enough.

At least my feelings of “I didn’t do enough” puts me in good company.

Your legacy story is a way that you can claim that you did do enough.

If you want to explore this more, I have questions you can ask, as well as a cool exercise for legacy-searching called “The Wise Counselor Exercise.” They’re in a little ebook I just wrote called  “Looking Back, Moving Forward: a Guide to Crafting Your Legacy Story.” Drop me a note if you’d like to receive a beta copy.

For now, just remember: your story does matter–and there’s someone who’s longing to hear more about it…

And that might even be you!

Here’s to your unique, waiting-to-be-told legacy story,

What about your work do you love, love, love…

It’s been a hard week. I lost a bid to do work I was perfect for. Ouch! It’s hard to step back and take a rejection objectively.

A good friend reminded me that losing a proposal bid is rarely personal–but more often about politics and preferences. I later found out that I hadn’t really lost–the organization just decided to do the work internally. But I only learned this after spending a day scraping myself off the floor.

Telling me not to take things personally is like telling a Springer Spaniel not to chase a squirrel. Good advice, but…

On my little spiral down into questioning everything, I began to wonder why I do my work. Fortunately, that night I had an online meeting with a group of three other women, super-talented artist/entrepreneurs. When it was my turn to share, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my work. Viewing my body language on the computer screen, I saw someone who looked cramped and collapsed, like a moth trying to squeeze her way back into a cocoon.

My voice sounded like I had been swatted. But as I talked about why I thought I would have been so good for the project, I said with some animation, “What I love, love, love about my work is watching people tell their stories in a circle and come alive.”

Bingo. Something happened. I started to come alive. Pepped up. Gestured. Started to fly again.

One of my wise colleagues picked up on this and noticed that my expression, “What I love, love, love…” had helped turn things around.

She suggested an exercise that I pass on to you.

Love, love, love: an exercise

There are days, like the one I just experienced, when asking yourself what you like to do or even love to do doesn’t cut it.

It’s so easy to sound reasonable (yawn.)

But when you ask yourself what you love, love, love to do, you aren’t asking for reasonableness. You’re asking for passion, energy, and sparkle. You’re asking about work that is so irrefutably yours that you would do it without being paid–although hopefully you’ll be paid a lot because you’re so good at it.

This is GREAT practice for writing about yourself or creating an “About” page for your website (see below).

What about your work do you love, love, love?

(I did the exercise thinking about work but you could do it about other areas of your life as well.)

Write it out. If you are unsure about what you’re writing, speak the words out loud and check out the energy. Can you hear excitement?

Gone was the jargon designed to look good. Gone were the words like efficiency, effectiveness, value-added, strategic, or results-oriented. What came to me instead were real examples of working at my best and helping others.

From my list:

  • I love, love, love guiding a group to tell stories and then watching them be moved by each other.
  • I love, love, love helping someone develop a story that leaves her or him feeling proud and competent.
  • I love, love, love helping a team get out of its own way.
  • I love, love, love performing a story and hearing from audience members about how they were moved.
  • I love, love, love watching board members tell stories about why they’re committed to their organization.
  • I love, love, love project-planning on a big, clean whiteboard.
  • I love, love, love supporting someone to take a risk to speak up.
  • I love, love, love writing posts, and seeing the chimp from Mailchimp give me the high five that lets me know the post is on the way to you.

My list goes on, but I’ll spare you.

In describing my work, if  I’m tempted to use a word like empowerment, I think about a specific example and remember the look in someone’s eyes. Thinking about the story always grounds my words.

If you have your own website with an “About” page, this exercise will take you into the heart of what you do and invigorate your copy. Spare yourself the weighty, well-written, important-sounding words I used for too many years. They keep people from feeling your special greatness.

Once you’ve tapped into the energy of love, love, love, you can edit your copy accordingly. You don’t have to include those words to convey the freshness and passion you’ve discovered. People will feel you more.

And remember what they love, love, love about you.

What to say when you don’t want to say anything

 

I woke up this morning thinking about what to write and…and my brain was empty.

What do you say when your brain has gone blank?

This is what introverts face all the time (self-included)…when we have to say to people that we don’t have anything to say (or talk about not wanting to talk.)

This is also an issue when my husband comes home and wants to greet me and I’m in the middle of writing a sentence that will fly away forever if I even murmur a word…and he say’s “Hi, Honey…”

(We’ve developed a code.)

To help us introverts and others, I’m designing a line of T-shirts you can wear to avoid this problem. (You can send me your order…we don’t even need to talk.)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any suggestions for the line? You can post them below…quietly.

On Valentine’s Day: How to skip the sugar and give some real appreciations

Remember “Sweethearts,” the little pink sugar hearts made by Necco that are given out on Valentine’s Day with words stamped on them? They’re called conversation hearts and printed with expressions like: Be mine, the best, hug me, luv me, too sweet, etc. Believe it or not, 8 billion hearts were sold last year, although some of them have been updated with sayings like, “text me” or “tweet me”

On Valentine’s Day, we’re trying if only in a sugary way, to tell people we care. Here’s a better way to tell someone you care without the calories or chalky residue left in your mouth:

Appreciate them. With a real saying. From you.

Unlike those little heart sayings that could be handed out to about anyone, make your appreciations longer and specific. You’ll make someone’s day. The more specific the better. I admit, even though I’m trying to kick the habit, I’m still a lush for appreciations like, “You’re great” or “Love your writing.”

But, if you really want to make my day or that of someone in your life, offer an appreciation that lets people know a particular reason why you like them or their work, or give an example of what went right for you. For example, that last blog post made me think, and I love that, even if I don’t totally agree.

A way to give positive feedback

When I teach about giving feedback, I sometimes encourage students to use the following sequence to offer their experience of another:

When you …(say what happened)

I felt ….(describe your experience)

and

As a result of that (share any outcome).

Sometimes a class member will complain, “But I don’t know them,” or “I haven’t been with them outside of class,” or “I’ve only known them for two years.”

This usually means one of two things:

  1. They have their radar up for insincere flattery and appreciations that are designed to get something (like sweeten them up and then ask for something).
  2. They aren’t used to noticing things about others or expressing what they notice. I assure participants that they should never offer insincere or manipulative appreciations.

Then, I then suggest they practice noticing.

I promise you that in a two-minute interaction with a clerk in a store you can find something to appreciate. It might be a pin someone is wearing or how they attend to you so quickly, or the fact that they ask you how you are.

Here are some real-time appreciations I can imagine giving to people in my life:

  • When you came into Zumba, I felt the energy pick up in the room.
  • When you asked about my Mom, I so appreciated your remembering. It makes the situation we’re dealing with easier.
  • The comments you offered in the meeting really got my attention because they were so thoughtful and relevant.
  • The fact that you do the food shopping is such a gift because it allows me to concentrate on my writing (thank you, husband!).
  • The story you told moved me because I could relate to your example of that girl.
  • The way you convened the group and brought everyone together was artful.
  • You have an incredible knack for finding just the right card to send; your cards make me feel great.

Practice makes the art of appreciation a lot easier, and what better time to practice than on the official I-care-about-you day?

Besides, appreciations are a good value (aka free) on the annual double-the-price-of-roses (Valentine’s) day.

Of course, there are some specifics you might not want to say:

  • That dress or Hawaiian shirt makes you look less fat.
  • The mic makes your voice sounds less screechy.
  • This time your presentation was interesting.

But you already know not to do that!

Can you imagine a Valentine’s Day where you make it your mission to appreciate others in your sincere, just-being-you way?

What will you stand for?

 

What do you stand for?

Isn’t it time to get a little bolder, to speak up for the truths you hold in your heart, challenging the inequities you see around you? You don’t need to be on the streets, or on the frontlines of the revolution to have your own potent message. The stand I’m referring to isn’t about regurgitating political positions or philosophical doctrines, but sharing the truth of your own embodied experience, the wisdom you have gained through living.

Speaking up doesn’t require a megaphone or even an audience. You can hold a subtle message in your heart and when the time comes speak out. Your voice may be gentle, or you may roar like a lion. There are many ways to take a stand.

I believe that standing for what you believe in is one of the keys to a long life.

If you want to see a beautiful example of standing for something, watch Oprah Winfrey’s speech to the 2018 Golden Globes. It’s getting a lot of press so you may have seen it. I could watch it again and again, just to soak in some of her prowess and power.

 

For those who study and teach presentation skills, as I do, Oprah’s remarks demonstrate what a great speech looks like. She starts with a story; acknowledges her audience; uses her powerful, resonate voice in varied ways; weaves emotion throughout; and moves us on an emotional arc that ends with a relevant and poignant story. She closes with a compelling call to action.

All of that represents fantastic technique. But the greatness of the speech came from how she shared her heart, rather than the technique she used. She won me with three special factors:

  • She owned who she was. There was no apology, no thinking small. She knows the power she wields. Oprah is Oprah–and she stood tall on that stage.
  • She embodied what she was saying. There wasn’t a gratuitous or abstract word in her presentation.You knew that she had lived or witnessed what she spoke about. She held the truths she knew in her heart, in her body, as well as in her head. Listening to her voice, you felt a credibility that extended way beyond her celebrityhood.
  • She took a stand and inspired us to do the same.

The issue of the hour (or the year) at Hollywood’s Golden Globes was #MeToo, a hashtag that became a movement, emerging from the brave testimonies of women who dared to reveal how they had been sexually maltreated over the years by men in power. Oprah spoke right to the issue and acknowledged the courage of women, in media and throughout the culture, who dared to speak out. She addressed the courage of celebrities and also of the laborers, the forgotten, and the poor, black women whose histories haven’t been publicized, but who have endured atrocities. She made it clear that she stood for social justice, the empowerment of women and the end of sexual misconduct.

Oprah is undoubtedly the most powerful woman in America. Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Oprah knows how to use her influence and fame to shed light on issues, to offer support to those who have been denied a voice, and to encourage us all to take action.

I hope many of us, women and men, will be inspired by Oprah to stand up for what matters most to us. This is key to staying vital–at any age. There’s so much that needs to be addressed in our culture; all of our voices are needed.

It’s time to let your words be heard. Take a stand on the issues you care about.

When it comes to changing the world, in your particular way, it’s time to say,“Me, too.”

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