I’m waiting for my turn to speak. Not on the side of a stage or in front of a large group. I’m a speaker-judge that needs to give feedback to students at the high school where I coach. They chose me because they consider me an innovator (or at least the kids voted me in 😊). They are presenting on inventions, and we (as invited judges) are assessing them on how well they speak about the invention they’ve chosen, and how convincing they are that the invention they chose has made greatest impact to mankind. I’ve heard about the plane, car, refrigerator…even the sandwich (seriously, someone got credit for taking two pieces of bread and slapping them on both sides of other food!).
Now that we have finished filling out our forms giving individual feedback for each student, we are to give general feedback to the whole class: what we thought they did that was amazing, as well as what they could improve. The first judge to my right gets up and presents to the class. He’s even-keeled, speaks to the kids in a very positive, level manner, and they all seem engaged and listening. He begins with wonderfully supportive feedback, gives his suggestions in the middle of his talk, buffered with even-tone, and a sincere smile, and then leaves them again with the reinforcement of what they did right. I watch this man’s feedback to the class and a gremlin of self-doubt creeps into my brain…
Crappy, self-doubt Gremlin – Holy crap, that was awesome!… Dude, you should present what you want to say to those kids like that!
Me – I don’t really talk like that.
CSD Gremlin – Well, you should consider trying. Your loud, huge, energetic way of speaking is off-putting to these kids.
Me – It is? I’ve coached cross country here for some years, and my delivery seems to carry my intention and positivity pretty good. I think –
CSD Gremlin – Come on, man! This is a classroom. It’s serious business, you can’t just be all…well…you! Look at that guy…
I look over at the guy who just presented. He nonchalantly sips his coffee, as the class claps for him and the teacher thanks him for being a judge today. I know I have great feedback for these kids, and they’ve always responded well to me. But it is true, I don’t present like that guy. I get introduced and stand up. I’m still in my head:
Me – Crap, how should I go with this? What is my intention?
CSD Gremlin – Just smile and do exactly what the other dude did!
I start to tell the class how much I appreciated all of their presentations, and how well researched their ideas were. I can feel my energy tighten as I try and follow a mental-emotional script that seems as foreign to me as mine would to the man who just presented.
Me, to my CSD Gremlin – This is not who I am.
CSD Gremlin – Exactly. Just keep doing this, and you’ll slide by –
I get finished telling the class about what they did right, and I go to start talking to them about the way they present: not reading from the paper but trusting themselves and speaking from who they are to the audience. I pause and look down, smiling. Give a little laugh have under my breath. Gather myself and begin trusting myself to speak authentically to my audience.
Me (talking to the classroom) – Alright, wait a second. Let me show you something…
CSD Gremlin – Don’t do it!
I grab a blank piece of paper from the table. Turn to the class holding it in my hand and begin telling them a story that’s kinda’ funny (not ridiculously funny), but funny enough, about my cat almost knocking me over this morning trying to get to its food bowl. I tell the story constantly looking at the blank piece of paper in my hand as if I am reading it verbatim. I stay monotone. When I hit the punch-line the class laughs a little, but it’s a polite laugh, the kind of laugh you try to avoid as a public speaker.
Then loudly I say, “Alright, take two!”
I drop the paper and begin telling the same story loud and animated. I make sure to make eye contact with everyone, giving out great energy (basically my way) and using hand gestures. This time, when I hit the same punch-line as before, the class gives a full, strong laugh. I laugh with them.
Me, to the class – Right! Look down at your paper as little as you can.
I can see I have their attention now.
Me – Make a connection with your audience and be yourself.
They all clap and the teacher thanks me for coming in. The guy next to me gives me the nod of ‘nice work.’
As I leave the classroom and head towards my car I’m filled with that great feeling you have when you really make the connection you’re looking for with another (or a decent size group of others). I thought back to when I watched the judge before present authentically, and the great response he got for it, and how I envied his connection with the kids. I had almost made a serious mistake in that room. I almost chose not to trust who I was and to try to imitate someone else. What did I learn through those 5 minutes of presenting to those kids?
My mental-emotional tools are effective because they are intertwined with who I am, not something I practice outside of myself in spite of who I am.
I’m sure we’ve all looked to get out of our own mental-emotional skin from time to time in search of better housing 😊. I’d love to hear your story if you’d like to share it.