The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: March 2005
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Techniques for balance
Dealing with "stage fright." (Pretending the audience is naked is stupid in terms of steadying your nerves, because you start to wonder if they're envisioning you naked.)
- Prepare your material or remarks thoroughly, and practice in terms of length. Always have more than you need, because cutting back is easy, but adding "on the fly" is deadly.
- Don't memorize anything except the first two minutes of your talk-the opening. That will start you confidently. Then look at your notes.
- Never script a speech. Use bullet points to remind you of the general points, then speak conversationally from the bullet points.
- Arrive early and talk to people casually. They will become your "friendlies" with whom you can establish eye contact at first and receive positive response.
- Use self-deprecating humor. It will loosen you and the audience up, and will create empathy.
- Pretend you're scuba diving, which requires only two basic skills: keep breathing and keep moving your legs. This will improve your voice control and also move you about the stage so that you're not rooted to the podium.
- Use numbered key points (audiences love a sequential list) and support the points with contemporary examples (audiences love even more pragmatic and immediately-identifiable issues, not abstracts and conceptual theories).
- Summarize your main points at the end, thank people and leave. Never end on uncertainty and never with questions and answers.
- If you do take questions during your talk, use a three-part strategy: Repeat the question, ensuring that you heard it right, allowing others to hear it, and giving yourself time to think; Respond to the question, giving the best answer you can, preferably supported by an example of your point; Review the response with the questioner to ensure that you did, in fact, satisfy the inquiry. (The three Rs.)
- Remember at all times that the audience is there to take part in a success experience. They want you to succeed because they want to have a productive time investment. Except for the very few aberrant personalities you will encounter, no one is sitting there hoping that you fail.
What do you need to do to lead a successful life? Nobody really asked me, but, it's fairly simple:
- Do what you say you'll do. If you make a commitment-to help on a committee, to be at your kid's soccer game, to paint the porch-do it.
- Never assume the other person is damaged. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they have as superlative motives as do you until you are proved wrong.
- Act on evidence, not psychobabble. Don't conclude that someone "isn't a team player" just because they are 10 minutes later for a meeting, or "out to undermine you" just because they disagree with your point.
- Add value to your friends and loved ones. If you are providing information, opinions, ideas, or support of any kind, make it as specific and constructive to their situation as you can. Pontificating about what you've done or how you did it is usually worthless to someone in a different setting, with a different personality, and with different goals in life.
- Contribute what you can to charity, and keep your mouth shut. Acts of charity are not more praiseworthy because of a large amount, publicity, or your name on the side of a building. They are important to society for their support of those less fortunate, are valuable based on what you can afford to give, and don't belong in your press kit.
- No one has ever been really better off by reflecting that someone else is in a lower position, or by exacting revenge on another. You are better off by elevating yourself. When you denigrate others or take solace in their lowered state, you descend with them..
- Scream, laugh, and frolic. If you can't allow yourself an unfettered, unembarrassed good time, there's something wrong with you. Yell out loud at a ball game, laugh uproariously at a comedy, cry without remorse at a tragedy. Emotions, like muscles, need to be exercised or they atrophy. Don't hold back, because what you save can't be spent or passed on.
- Experiment, and try to fail. Get out of the box, out of the paradigm, out of the neighborhood. If you haven't failed, then you just haven't been trying hard enough. To lead a life of conservative, safe existence is to have eaten solely the vanilla ice cream, to have taken photos only in black and white, to have never had the wind rip through your hair.
- Learn continually. I'm constantly surprised at how stupid I was two weeks ago. Read widely. Hang out with people smarter than you are in their fields. Debate not to "win" but to learn. Occupy an honest position that says you really are smarter today than you were last month.
- Travel. The world is full of differing and exciting people and experiences which can't be replicated in newspapers and photos. You'll learn why people believe things that you can't agree with, and why others perceive us the way they do. Get out of Peoria, and North Adelaide, and Milton Keynes, and Sao Paulo. Get out of the country.
- Earn money and save some of it. You can't help others unless you help yourself, which is why those airplane people tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first. Spend somewhat less than you make. If you're unhappy with that, either make more or spend less. That's an immutable dynamic.
- Understand the moment. They are occurring all the time. Look at the sunset, play with the dog, hug a loved one, let the rain fall on your head. Life is one long existential continuum. Don't miss savoring a moment of it.
I've been considering the counterintuitive proposition that you can help people too much. With the best of intentions, you can create an over-reliance on your support which hobbles rather than helps.
When someone asks you the same question repeatedly, they simply have abandoned the work of thinking in favor of leaning on you for support.
They haven't bothered to integrate your past helpful advice, and instead mindlessly ask you for aid in identical situations. Similarly, a painfully simplistic question (e.g., "What should I say to someone who is interested in my work?") indicates to me that the individual is simply not willing to think through his or her own issues, beyond looking up your phone number. (In fact, they probably ask someone else for your number, since they are used to relying on THEM for THAT.)
There have been news items about students who receive special help and are allowed lower standards to pass tests and move on to more advanced classes, which indicate that they are actually hurt in the process.
For example, minority students who receive special help or dispensation to enter and proceed through law school have a higher failure rate on bar exams (which are standard and consistent for everyone). The old bromides about "paying one's dues" or "earning your stripes" are, as most aphorisms, based on fundamental truths.
I have to admit that I become rapidly annoyed by people who ask questions they should be able to answer themselves with a nanosecond of thought because, while I prize intellectual curiosity, I despise intellectual sloth. And, let's face it, there are such things as stupid questions. ("There is no such thing as a stupid question," is not a bromide, but a transparent device used by teachers to make first-graders comfortable in posing an inquiry.) In fact, more organizations and relationships would be in better shape if someone occasionally said, "I'm not responding to that because you should be able to figure it out yourself."
Mentors and coaches don't help people by providing answers. They help people by forcing them to come up with answers. The therapeutic intervention, "Well, what do you think about that?" is in place for a reason.
External answers may gain compliance and temporary adaptive action, but internal answers are the source for commitment and long-term corrective action.
Let's face it: some things are obviousities. When you get a flat tire, you don't wander around wondering what to do or call a friend and say, "I have a flat tire, what's your advice?" You have it replaced and repaired.
So what's so different when someone says, "Your price is too high!"? Surely, you've heard that before. Why wander around, circling like a dog trying to prepare a site for a nap, or call someone to ask, "What can I say?" You reply with common sense: "Why do you feel that way?" "As compared to what?"
"Doesn't the value represent a huge return on the investment?" Why are you focusing on price instead of benefit?" Or, my personal favorite, "You're kidding, right?"
Sometimes the best way to help people is to stop helping them. Call it tough love; or preserving your own time; or preserving your own sanity. An answer is simply a reply, but a solution is a sign of true high regard. And that solution, more likely than not, is within the ability of the inquirer.
The best way to empower may just be to refuse to be the solution yourself.
ONLY READ THIS IF YOU KNOW ME WELL OR YOU'LL BE NEEDLESSSLY TICKED-OFF DEPARTMENT
I've been patronizing the same Shell station in my town for 20 years, and they've seen all of my exotic cars (a Ferrari, for example, can pass anything on the road except a gas station). Last week, I drove the Bentley GT over, and as usual, customers stopped what they were doing to take a gander at this very rare automobile.
As I pulled in with the pumps on my left, the attendant was leaning against one or them and didn't move. "Your tank's on the other side," he pointed out, "and the hose won't reach across your trunk."
"No problem," I said, "I'll make a U-turn to the other side," and adroitly maneuvered the beast into a semi-graceful sort of half-moon, Q/K-turn. The attendant hadn't moved. "You still have your left side against the pumps," he explained, "and your gas tank is still on the wrong side." In making the U-turn, I had not changed anything about the car's relative position to the gas tanks!
"Oh," I said sheepishly, with a group of workers and customers continuing to watch the proceedings, "I'll pull it forward and back up to the other side."
When I finally accomplished that arabesque, the attendant moved to begin pumping gas, but with a huge smile on his face.
"What?" I asked.
"Well," he grinned, "it's a good thing you don't have to pass any sort of test to purchase one of these, eh?"