Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love, Present

My favorite scene in Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love takes place in India, where Gilbert manages to meditate while surrounded by mosquitoes.

In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Gilbert reflects on the experience:

So that evening I found a quiet bench in a garden and decided to just sit for an hour, Vipassana style. No movement, no agitation, just pure regarding of whatever comes up. Unfortunately I'd forgotten what comes up at dusk in India, mosquitoes. As soon as I sat down the mosquitoes started dive-bombing me. I thought, this is a bad time of day to practice Vipassana meditation.

On the other hand, when is it a good time to sit in detached stillness? When isn't something stinging and biting? Therefore I decided not to move. In a beginners attempt at self-mastery I just watched the mosquitoes eat me. The itch was maddening at first but eventually melted into a general heat of pure sensation, neither good nor bad, just intense. And that intensity lifted me out of myself and into perfect meditation where I sat in real stillness for the first time in my life.

Two hours later I stood up and assessed the damage.I counted 20 mosquito bites, but not much later all the bites had diminished because truly it all does pass away in the end, and truly there is peace to be learned from this.

While I have never tried to meditate while being bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes, I do live in Washington, DC and know the anxiety that comes from being eaten alive in your own backyard.

Gilbert made me realize that my mosquito anxiety may have less to do with the present discomfort of being bitten - and more to do with the future - the dread of itchy mosquito bites the next day.

So much of our anxiety about speaking has to do with two things:

1. The past. (Did I prepare? Do I know enough? Remember that awful presentation I gave last time?)

2. The future. (Will I mess up? Will something go wrong? Will they like me?)

You can overcome much of this anxiety by learning to focus on the present.

The key to having stage presence is the ability to be fully present with the audience.

And when you make mistakes (which you will), it is far easier to bounce back if you don't have the added anxiety of thinking about the impact of those mistakes on your future.

From the Green Room: Want to have stage presence? Focus on being fully present with your audience. This is a skill each of us can learn to cultivate.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Know Your Opponents

When presenting a new idea, it is just as or even more necessary to speak to your opponents as it is to your fans.

With this in mind, read this piece in last Tuesday's New York Times:


For Mosque Sponsors, Early Missteps Fueled Storm

Joy Levitt, executive director of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, remembers her first conversation with Daisy Khan around 2005, years before Ms. Khan’s idea for a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan morphed into a controversy about Sept. 11, Islam and freedom of religion.

“Strollers,” said Ms. Levitt, whom Ms. Khan had approached for advice on how to build an institution like the Jewish center — with a swimming pool, art classes and joint projects with other religious groups. Ms. Levitt, a rabbi, urged Ms. Khan to focus on practical matters like a decent wedding hall and stroller parking.

“You can use all these big words like diversity and pluralism,” Ms. Levitt recalled telling Ms. Khan, noting that with the population of toddlers booming in Manhattan, “I’m down in the lobby dealing with the 500 strollers.”

Clearly, the idea that Ms. Khan and her partners would one day be accused of building a victory monument to terrorism did not come up — an oversight with consequences. The organizers built support among some Jewish and Christian groups, and even among some families of 9/11 victims, but did little to engage with likely opponents. More strikingly, they did not seek the advice of established Muslim organizations experienced in volatile post-9/11 passions and politics.

The organizers of the Muslim community center jumped straight into the practical logistics of their idea without first knowing their audience.

This is a mistake speakers make all the time.

We get so caught up in our content, that we forget to make the audience essential to the presentation.

From the Green Room: Whenever you are presenting a new idea, take the time to think carefully about how your idea will be received. Don't bother to craft your content until you know your audience - your potential fans...
and potential opponents.