FREEDOM VS FORMULISM: From Mechanical to Mastery

December 2nd, 2011

I’m starting to realize there’s a pattern to the majority of questions people ask about public speaking and presentation. We’re looking for simple solutions to complicated issues.

That’s a problem. Communication is complex. After all, it’s about human interaction. And we all have enough experience to know that anything related to humans takes complication to a whole new level!

But humans also prefer certainty and simplicity. We don’t like things to be complex and iffy. So we constantly come up with rules, manuals and prescriptions to guide us through the chaos. We look for for tips and tricks that are guaranteed to work in every situation.

But rules never cover every possibility. So we make more. Pretty soon, the rules just add to the confusion and complexity.

Formulism is defined as a strict adherence to prescribed forms. It shows up in art, religion, ethics—even in math. And maybe it’s okay, even necessary, for beginners. The trouble is, prescription creates rigidity. We get up tight trying to remember and obey all the rules. We become disconnected, focused on doing it right, rather than being present to what’s actually happening. In this respect, formulism stifles peak performance rather than promoting it.

Can you see how this relates to presentation and public speaking?

The antidote is Freedom. We must accept that communication is complex and the outcomes uncertain. It’s not for dabblers and slackers. We must work to develop concrete skills rather than manufacturing end results. Instead of making up rules for eye contact, we should be cultivating our ability to be engaged, open and connected to our listeners.

Bringing crucial skills to the interaction, trusting we have what it takes and allowing ourselves to be aware and present, we can apply our skills in unique ways that are highly relevant to the situation. That’s true expertise.

When we commit to the way of freedom, in communication, we discover a sense of confidence and serenity. We’re not trying to be perfect, but effective. We become present for our listeners, projecting a sense of, “I get you.” We bring enhanced creativity and spontaneity to the situation. And we communicate with greater relevance and ultimately more impact.

Getting Your Feet on the Ground

October 28th, 2010

Gerda Alexander, a 20th century bodywork practitioner, said security is greatly connected to feeling your bone structure. What did she mean? By noticing your capacity to support yourself at a physical level, you feel your potential to support yourself at other levels: mentally, emotionally, socially, professionally. Confidence is not an abstract “something” we have no way of grasping. Confidence, as a feeling, already exists in your body.

This would explain why people feel stronger and, yes, more confident, just by feeling their feet on the ground. It’s a simple approach yielding disproportionate benefits. One client recounted, “I had a difficult conversation with my boss last week, so I made sure I was feeling both feet on the ground, and I was surprised how strong I felt in that interaction.” Being grounded connects you to your surroundings, keeps you present, and that increases confidence.

How can you develop this skill so it works for you, even under pressure? Take your shoes off. Close your eyes and notice the sensations you feel in your feet, sensations of temperature, texture, weight and so forth. Notice if you are standing on your whole foot, or focusing your weight into just part of your foot. What would it feel like to allow your whole foot to support your body, not just part of your foot? The overused part might feel grateful.

Next, ask yourself if you are standing on your bones. If your bones are acting like pillars to support your body, then the large external muscles might be able to relax over that framework, like clothes draped over a hanger. Scan through your body. If your bones are supporting you, you might be able to relax your legs, unclench your bottom, let go of your belly, soften your lower back, drop your shoulders or lengthen the back of your neck. What muscles are working too hard, just to keep you upright? When you perform simple tasks, like standing, with economy of effort, you free yourself to focus on other things. You feel more “able.”

If you’re standing on your bones and your feet are fully in contact with the ground, your whole body is able to relax downward onto the ground. This enables you to breathe deeply. Your voice is more likely to engage with your whole body. You begin to feel you are speaking with your whole being. The effect is often immediate and noticeable. Of course, making that an everyday experience, something that helps you, even under pressure, takes some practice.

You can practice grounding whenever it crosses your mind: brushing your teeth, waiting in line, standing in the office talking to colleagues. At any moment, you can ask yourself, “What is my connection to the ground, right now? Am I aware of the ground supporting me at this moment?” Then continue doing whatever you were doing, noticing what difference it makes. It quickly becomes a feeling you wouldn’t want to live without.

You may not control what life or work throws at you, but you can access your unique strengths, be fully available and connect with maximum impact, by developing a secure foundation for strong presence and peak performance.