Post of the month
Magic is not where we think it is
Whenever we practise an activity in a considered and consistent manner, our expertise develops. Nothing magical about that. It’s a simple process, accessible to all, that enables us to improve gradually, moving from the simplest to the most complex, from awkwardness to brilliance, from doubt to confidence and from effort to enjoyment. And as long as the activity in question doesn’t require any particular ability related to age or physiology, then “practice” provides all the above benefits, in whatever field. To sum up: it works every time, for every one of us, for practically everything, and it’s painless.
No-one can rationally argue that they haven’t got a “talent” for something, since expertise can only be developed through assiduous (and intelligent) practice. Except that, while undertaking to practise something is not amazing in itself – it’s an idea acknowledged by all, even if not truly understood by all – the more intangible results it produces are not widely recognized.
To start with, training and repetition require us to think about what we’re doing, but quite quickly, this is no longer necessary. Let’s take the example of a pianist who practises scales every day: even though he’s focusing, it’s mostly his hands, rather than his mind, that are engaged… What happens, then? The mind is free, the body works by itself, and other things are able to arise: things that are buried, ignored, often, unconscious. A potential we hoped to tap into again and that we can finally express. Or maybe states, impulses, ideas that come seemingly out of nowhere to burst into our consciousness – in other words, inspiration!
In the end, while practice enables us to learn a skill, a technique or a craft, and then to “grow” as we perform it, it also enables us, once we’ve reached a certain level, to grow beyond what we thought we could do. It’s alchemy: the more a substance is worked upon, the more it yields its secrets and surprises us.
And that, after all, is magic.
Performer of the month
The man from Mars
David Bowie took off for good a few weeks ago. His songs have often been discussed, but his body of work has rarely been contested. He’s had several lives, as full as any single one. What was his take on success and how to achieve it?
“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
What’s in it for you?
Inspiration starts at the coffee machine
“I don’t need presentation skills, I’m not client facing”. “Public speaking skills? What for? I’m never asked to present at conferences!”. “I don’t need this type of training, I don’t suffer from nerves”. “Presentation skills? Been there, done that!” These are some of the beliefs – misguided, in our view – that have currency in the corporate world…
The fact is, when you speak in a meeting, you’re presenting. When you argue a point or make the case for a project while sitting with a colleague in a restaurant, you’re presenting. When you strive to explain an approach, describe a concept, or communicate your vision to 1000, 100, 10 or just one person – you’re still presenting.
Speech seems natural to us, and yet we had to learn it. Communication also seems natural, yet we weren’t taught it. But it isn’t a matter of intuition – far from it. Nor does it simply depend on how “zen” we are, how comfortable we feel in front of an audience. It’s a process that requires a certain agility: being able to take off one’s shoes and try on someone else’s. Structuring one’s ideas in such a way that they become a device that de-activates psychological barriers. Weaving a rhythm, metaphors and stories to connect with others. Generating feelings to transport and inspire those listening to us.
So there is indeed a difference in “format” between a conference, a meeting with a client or a discussion with a friend, but the ingredients required to captivate those we speak to are still the same. We need to use these ingredients every day, in all circumstances. Yet few people know what they are.
It happened to them first
We all have an ace up our sleeve
“I’ve always been something of an introvert, and don’t speak much in company, even though I enjoy very much being with people. At work, I’m rarely asked for my opinion, and only exceptionally required to front anything, which suits me fine. I do my job to the best of my abilities, that’s what matters to me. Nevertheless, I was tired of “running away” from this anxiety I have about speaking before a group, I felt it was holding me back, so I decided to work on this by enrolling on “Winning Hearts & Minds”.
What’s stunned me most hasn’t been my very swift progress as a presenter. It’s the truly thrilling discovery that my “quiet” profile was hiding major assets for speaking to and getting through to people… For instance, I’m not chatty, I only speak when I think it’s necessary. And this has implications when I present: I tend to choose my words carefully, to speak in short sentences, to be as clear as possible. The result is that this comes across as sign of great professionalism. Someone told me recently: “we know where we’re going, with you, you don’t beat around the bush. We can tell you know what you’re talking about and that you’re a totally safe pair of hands.””
- Christiane R-G., Telecom Department.
And what else?
“It all begins with empathy”
Najberg Milne’s courses are effective because they’re grounded in reality and practicality. They also work because they go beyond the professional context to address issues in a generic way, as when we invite our delegates to borrow their listeners’ hats in order to understand them better – the better to communicate with them. Here is the empathy game taken to yet another level by Sam Richards, an American sociologist:
An “authenticity” meter
While studying what made an actor believable on a stage, what allowed the audience to understand and connect with what the actor was experiencing, Stanislavski discovered that it hinged on three questions:
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
- What do I want?
The actor must be able to answer these three question at every moment of her presence on stage, else her performance becomes artificial, inauthentic…
Our suggestion this month is as follows: whenever you feel a “dissonance” in the way you are, at work or at home, try and answer these three questions and see whether the answers are aligned with what you’re experiencing right now!