We need new moves to move our people

The fall of Babylon; Cyrus the Great defeating the Chaldean

The need for story and embodiment in leadership training and development

In a VUCA world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, where change is increasing exponentially, people feel overwhelmed, unsafe and resistant to more change. Their brains react with threat responses: wanting either to fight (I will not comply), flee (I will avoid it) or freeze (I don’t know what to do), and so we disconnect (Leave me alone).

Yet as organisational development practitioner, coach, change manager, leader and facilitator, you know that shift is not just inevitable, it is desirable. How do you get your people to shift with the shifting times?

In order to thrive in such a world we need to be more adaptive, innovative, engaged and integrated. To achieve this, the brain must function optimally, not in survival mode but in creative mode.

Yet audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Some are resistant to new input and tired of change. Others want highly customised, personalised and individually relevant input.

We need new moves to move the people we serve.

Lectures where information is simply transmitted, like feel-good motivational talks, and games like paintball and potjiekos competitions (team cook-ups), all lack one or both of the essential ingredients for programmes that maximise the potential for shifting your clients or participants. These two essential ingredients are learning design and creative participation.

Learning design is the art of turning information into a carefully sequenced and well-crafted learning experience. Here the content does not dictate the design, but the facilitator decides how best to shape the content so that people accept it. Often stories, pictures, audio-visual stimuli, like props and videos and interactive techniques, are employed to unfold the material and enliven the presentation. Speakers, trainers and teachers who add this component to their material significantly increase the potential for shift to happen, since it creates more brain connections for participants and draws them into the ‘story in the room’ (the content presented).

Creative participation is the art of creating structures that invite participants to contribute their ideas, thoughts and actions to the material. This kind of experiential process allows participants to bring their own ingenuity to the conversation and discover tacit knowledge that they did not know they had. Programmes and interventions that use games, interactive processes, conversations and liberating structures also greatly enhance the potential for shift, since people are able to connect their own stories to the story in the room.

With the explosion of the internet, everyone can be an expert, everyone can personalise and customise their programmes, profiles and preferences and everyone can choose what information they want to allow in their headspace. In addition, given the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are increasingly weary of solutions that would waste money or cause more uncertainty.

Lectures

Old-fashioned lecturing does not work any more. On the one hand, lectures are content-driven and the content dictates the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content tries to be a one-size-fits-all solution that is not customisable and adaptable for every individual particularity. Furthermore, lectures do not leverage the power of human connection and emotion as a way to drive messages home and make them ‘stickable’.

Shows

Motivational speakers liven up presentations by turning them into more of a show. Through showmanship they artfully present their content using stories, emotion and clever presentational gimmicks like props, visual aids and performance skills. In addition, motivational speakers are high-impact but low in time investment. And while the really good speakers are expensive for the time they put in, a once-off payment is still cheaper than a process that unfolds over time and consumes both time and money.

Yet traditional motivational speakers cannot bring about shift that lasts. They get a high rating from people attending their talks, but a very low rating in terms of creating real shift. What is lacking is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. A grand show still offers a one-size-fits-all solution that cannot shift the individual. Many may enjoy it, but only 5% will experience something like shift.

Games

Team-building exercises and gamification programmes step into this gap by offering game-like solutions. A game is not meaning-driven, it is structure-driven. Within the confines of the game, people have some control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A physical game, like soccer, is also good for connecting people and building relationships, something that often enhances emotional connection by awakening competitiveness or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around meaning that can bring about change, people often leave a team-building experience feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ but without a lasting shift that will be seen in the workplace.

Shift

If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – and that is a solution we simply term Shift. For Shift to occur the talk, workshop or intervention must both be designed for learning to happen and involve participants’ creative participation. This means there is maximum potential for understanding the material as well as for participants to apply it to their own contexts and contribute to creating meaning and significance.

When you want to increase the potential for Shift to happen, story-strategy helps you retain perspective of the big picture while improvisation skills help you navigate your actions in the moment. Between the two, you create the conditions for Shift in the lives of your team members, workshop participants, customers, employees and, of course, yourself.

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More Story-Strategy for trainers and facilitators (and coaches)

shutterstock_72734719A good workshop design, like a good story:

S      helps people see their Situation in a new light and Summons them to new possibilities

T       Guides them across a Threshold full of Terrors—Facing their fears

     Provides Obstacles  and OBSTACLES as they journey through tests that challenge skill and paradigms.

R       Rewards their bravery and hear their commitments as they Return to their work-life.

      Supports them in Integrating their learning into their Identity so they transform their world.

…     Remembers that the story never ends and that no facilitator can completely control another’s journey.

For more detail on this model click here.

The success of trusted workshop processes lie in their ability to guide participants successfully across the two thresholds.  First from their current situation through the barrier of their resistance and fear into the landscape of your workshop filled with insights, theories and skills development. Secondly over the threshold back to their own realities armed with new tools, skills and understanding with which to face their recurring patterns of thinking.

Most workshop processes are really good at helping people cross the first threshold. Few get the second threshold crossed successfully. That is because most of us do not have the luxury to remain with our clients as they return to work or life. If you can offer them a coaching programme, or some kind of follow-up support system online, you have a better chance.

But what if you could cross this threshold In the Workshop?

Play it out in a safe space

Applied theatre processes like Applied Improvisation, Theatre for the Oppressed, Embodied Reflective Practice and Theatre for Development all use the power of embodiment and action to help people ‘rehearse for their futures’ (Augusto Boal). By using processes that require people to play out the learning, they get the opportunity to try out new ways of being in a safe environment before they have to go back into the ‘real’ world.

Play it out with your whole body, brain, heart and guts

Applied theatre processes also involve the whole of a person: not just the whole brain, but also the whole heart, body and gut feelings. As if this is not enough, it also involves a community: learning with others. The doing, playing, laughing interacting and learning that happens when people play together helps to access more parts of a human being and creates more opportunities for deep learning on core value level.

This is one of the main reasons that Applied Improvisation is taking off as a leading- edge workshop methodology and why it works so well with Story-Strategy (as summarised by the STORI… model) for designing workshops. The way in which both AI and Story-Strategy can navigate participants across the first and second thresholds  is also the reason why coaches find Applied Improvisation such a handy set of skills and tools and why Story-Strategy help them to structure their coaching programmes. Coaching itself functions to lead people over both thresholds, but especially the second one.

Catch Playing Mantis and Raymond van Driel at the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference in Austin Texas!!

You might also be interested in:

S.T.O.R.I… – A strategy using story principles for Trainers and Facilitators

P.L.A.Y.! – A summary of Improvisation principles for Trainers and Facilitators

Podcast interview with Petro Janse van Vuuren (PhD) on Story-Strategy.

Podcast interview with Raymond van Driel on AI and the PLAY! model.

Trainer workshops in South Africa, click here.

Coaching contact Petro in Johannesburg, Burgert in Cape Town and Raymond in the Netherlands.

The Applied Improvisation Network Click here.

AIN conference Train the trainer workshop Click here.

Applied Improvisation for Trainers and Facilitators – Podcast 2

In this episode Shawn Utterback from the Play Storming Group interviews Raymond Van Driel of F-Act Training and Coaching  regarding the upcoming Applied Improvisation for Trainers and Facilitators Course that will be held right before the Applied Improvisation World conference in Austin Texas (3 – 5 Nov).  Raymond shares the PLAY! model as an  overview of the core  improvisation principles that can help you navigate uncertainty and act with confidence amidst emergence and complexity as an facilitator/trainer.

Catch Playing Mantis and Raymond van Driel at the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference in Austin Texas!!

For more info on The Applied Improvisation Network Click here.

For train the trainer workshops in South Africa, click here.

OR contact Petro in Johannesburg, Burgert in Cape Town and Raymond in the Netherlands.

S.T.O.R.I… – A strategy using story principles for Trainers and Facilitators

AIN BannerWhile both improvisation and facilitation works best when the process and the outcome is open-ended, this does not mean it cannot be structured. How many times have you heard a facilitator or trainer say ‘trust the process’. One of the most important reasons for this trust is that, if the right ingredients are in the room, insight, transformation and learning is inevitable.

The S.T.O.R.I… model summarizes these necessary elements and demystifies the enigma of the process.

In recent years much has been written about the structure of myth. If you have read the Bible, or studied Greek mythology, or heard fairy tales from your grandmother, studied some Shakespeare at school, or just seen a few Hollywood films, you would recognize this structure right away. It is the dramatic structure underlying almost all stories and serves the purpose of taking the main character in the story on a journey of self discovery and personal growth.  Through identification with the hero the reader or spectator can learn about life. And gain understanding into their own journey.

If you use these same elements, your trainees or workshop participants can also undergo their own journey as you structure the learning process according to these principles. But just in case you think this will be a revelation, you will probably see that your process already follows this structure. That is because the structure of myth simply follows the pattern through which the human brain naturally opens up to new ideas.  Your trusted process works because these elements were probably already there. Only now you can identify them and be more intentional in planning them.

Below is a summary of the story stages.

In the mean time, if you are coming to the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference; we will be working with this model and the principles of Applied Improvisation to present to you a three day Train the Trainer workshop so you too can add more interaction, creativity and ZING when you train and facilitate.

Here the S.T.O.R.I… model

S       Situation and a Summons—Call to Adventure

Every participant comes into your training room with his/her own current reality or situation. Your workshop in some way has promised them something that can get them unstuck or propel them forward. It presents to them a summons. Every trusted process helps people see their current situation in a new light so that they feel summoned to new possibilities.

T       Threshold full of Terrors—Facing the guardians

And just as they begin to play and engage, they become fearful of what others may think, or of what would happen if they made a mistake. Especially in Applied Improvisation, the facilitator needs to take great care in creating a safe to fail space so that these giants of inhibition and fear can be vanquished. Trusted processes involve various exercises and techniques that help people feel safe with each other and the facilitator.

     Obstacles and OBSTACLES—The Journey

Every trusted training process involves games and exercises that stretch participants beyond what is comfortable. They provide tests and trials, or challenges that develop skill and insight. Yet these are only the obstacles (no capital letters). Yet all these activities are metaphors for the OBSTACLES (capital letters). These are the mindsets and paradigms that keep participants from breaking into new ways of thinking and doing. The trusted process seems simple on the outside, but brings participants to the brink of self transformation.

R       Reward and Return—Committing to face the reverent

When participants break through their paradigms, they typically come face to face with their own restrictive mindsets, their nemesis. Successful recognition of these brings reward and awakens a need in participants to commit to something new. The trusted process builds into it some kind of reward system and opportunity for people to make personal commitments. These serve to motivate them to return to their current realities where the old mindsets might rise again like reverent ghosts returning to haunt them.

      Integrating a new Identity—Transforming your world

No process is complete unless it supplies a follow up programme that can support people back in their work-life contexts to remember what they experienced during their adventure with you. All participants need support to integrate their learning into their way of being, their identities.

‘…‘   And the story never ends

Then just as you worry that only one or two people from your workshop really shifts, or that a single 3 hour training programme cannot possibly accomplish such deep transformation, you remember that the story never ends. While you can design and structure your workshop as a story, each participant is on their own journey over which you have no control. Their journeys might have to take them back to a threshold to vanquish more fear giants, or to face another shadow that returns to haunt them. Your only job is to be open to where people are in their journeys and support them by designing a worthwhile adventure.

If it is not happy, it is not the ending. And if it is happy, it is a new beginning. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Catch Playing Mantis and Raymond van Driel at the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference in Austin Texas!!

For train the trainer workshops in South Africa, click here.

OR contact Petro in Johannesburg, Burgert in Cape Town and Raymond in the Netherlands.

For more info on The Applied Improvisation Network Click here.

For more info on the AIN conference Train the trainer workshop Click here.

 

 

Easing past social resistance

Who is in this with me?

Do I fit in?


EeyoreEvery coaching client or participant wants to know:  am I alone in this? Many times somewhere in a coaching session a client would ask something like: “Is it just me who have these issues?” or “I sometimes wonder of my situation is more messed up than other people’s”. Just yesterday one asked me: “Do other women also struggle with the fact that their male colleagues are allowed to rant and rave and get all emotional, but as women they get patronised when they get upset?”.

In facilitations, it is often feedback like: “we discovered that our problems are very similar” or “i am so glad I am not alone in this”, that helps the facilitator know that social resistance is breaking down. Yet, this is not one you can give a single blow and be done with, it can take some people a long time to feel part of a group. This type of resistance must be gently worked on throughout a coaching session or a facilitation.

In the Lord of the Rings Frodo has learned that he is chosen (breaking through personal resistance) he has learned that he can trust Gandalf  (relational resistance) and he has heard the plan (practical resistance). Now he trembles as he almost accepts his duty…”So I must go to Mordor and deliver this ring into the fires that created it. And I must go alone…” But Gandalf surprises him. The wizard gets up, opens the door and brings in Samwise who had been eavesdropping the entire time. Neither Samwise nor Frodo can believe their good fortune when Gandalf informs them that Samwise must accompany Frodo. Sam is thrilled because of the promise of adventure, Frodo is thrilled because he would not be alone.

Samwise becomes Frodo’s loyal companion and it is thanks to him that Frodo finally manages to achieve the objective. We all need loyal support when we accept a new idea, try out a new habit or open up to a new perspective. But there are other social forces too that are needed to make sure we succeed and we must work on all of them throughout a process. I will share six of them with you here. Note that they work together in pairs.

1. The Sidekick and the Sceptic

Samwise is an example of the Sidekick – someone usually in the same peer group as the hero (the hero is of course your audience member). It can help to tell a story or produce a testimonial from someone like them who has gone through a similar problem as them and successfully made it through.  It is even more powerful if you can let people in a team coaching session or facilitation share stories and they become each others’ supporters. Like Piglet for Winnie the Pooh it is important that people are supported unquestioningly and with positivity. Yet opposite piglet sits Eeyore…

Sceptics who end up succeeding provide the most powerful success stories. A sceptic’s voice is even more powerful when he/she is of a higher status than the general status of your audience: if their boss’s is willing to share their own story of struggle, it can be an especially meaningful experience for participants, especially of this person really struggled to accept a certain truth or perspective that may be useful for their learning. Piglets bring positivity into a room, but Eeyores bring gravity and credibility.  What would it mean to my client who asked the question about men and women in the workplace if she could talk to an influencail woman leader about her frustrations? Especially if it was also someone who were sceptical about voicing her thoughts out loud at first, but had begun to speak out?

2. Emotion and Reason

People need to know that they will be both emotionally and mentally accepted into the fold. They need to feel good about participating and be able to satisfy their logic. If both Tigger and Owl support take part, they will be likely to accept it too. Ever wondered why advertisements either use sex appeal or scientific proof to make their point? Your case is doubly stronger if you can do both. This is why so many presentations use either a celebrity or a professor’s quote or story to strengthen an idea.

In both coaching and facilitation it is important to strike a careful balance so that you make room for emotions and listen to them, but also provide models and structures for the brain to make sense of the learning.  It is, for instance, important for me to allow my client to explore both the feelings and logic around the different behaviour of men and women in the workplace. Focussing on feelings may make her feel that her experiences were only emotional and not also logical. Focussing on the logic could cause her not to deal with her emotions around it and keep her from reflecting on it rationally and come up with solutions.

3. The Guide and Contagonist 

When all is said and done, you as the guide will be inviting the audience into your peer group. They need to like and  trust you and they need to know if you like and trust them. But is extremely important in coaching and facilitation that you are careful to applaud or judge too readily. Because your status is very high, your response can cloud your clients’ reading of his or her own inner responses – inner responses that are essential for the long term success of your processes. Grateful acceptance of absolutely any contribution is vital so that people do not clam p and put up their defences once more.

You as Guide face the opposite energy of the Contagonist. These are people or ideas that will distract, tempt and confuse your audience. Your job is to guide them through these possible misunderstandings, distortions and false solutions that may be hidden in the ideas that arise in the process you are facilitating. Failing to do so will leave people vulnerable to failure, but will also leave the process open to criticism.  How you deal with distractions and confusing ideas is important to keep the faith of those who want to follow you through the woods to deeper insight and wisdom.

sometimes it may be important for you take a strong stand against interruptions and unmask them as disruptive threatening to highjack the process that people are on. How you handle such interruptions can greatly influence the levels of resistance in your audience.

But be careful, for seven whole volumes Harry Potter distrusted and suspected Severus Snape, but Snape ended up playing a vital role in saving both Hogwarts and Harry from destruction.  After Harry heard his true story,  sadly a little too late, Harry named one of his own sons after him. Like sceptic’s sometimes make the best witnesses, distractions can sometimes turn out to hold the best solutions.

My client’s question of earlier was the very kind of distraction I am talking about. We were just at the end of our session about how she could be more assertive in meetings and not so disengaged. My first reaction was to think that this question had nothing to do with anything until I realised that, in fact, it was at the core of her disengagement. Rather than risking becoming upset in meetings and be labelled as over emotional woman, she was checking out. The session went to a much deeper level after that.

When you can welcome loyal supporters, sceptics, emotion, reason and valuable distractions into the room, while at the same time modulating your own applause or judgement and handling negative distractions, you have reached the pinnacle of your career as coach and facilitator. This is indeed an art. The better you are at it, the less resistance there is in the room.

Of course, you can stack up all of your tricks to help people move past resistance and then a hand goes up at the back and they ask: So what is the plan? How will this work?  That is when you face practical resistance . More on this next time.

For more on the archetypes google Dramatica.

Click here to get more training in facilitation and coaching through Story-Strategy and Applied Improvisation

 

 

 

How do I bring about shift that lasts?

Story-Strategy, Act 1, Episode 2: Possibility

If you are a speaker, trainer, facilitator, coach or OD (organisational Development) practitioner, you would have noticed that audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Like Claire in the previous blog post (How do I bring about shift that lasts?):

We need new moves to move the people we serve.

With the explosion of the internet, everyone can be an expert, everyone can personalise and customise their programmes, profiles and preferences and everyone can choose what information they want to allow in their headspace. In addition, the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are more and more weary of solutions that would either waste their money, or cause more uncertainty.

Lectures

Old fashioned lecturing, like FUNDA Training and Conferencing was used to, does not work anymore. On one hand lectures are content driven and the content dictate the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content proposes to be a one size fits all solution that is not customisable and adaptable for every individual particularity. Furthermore, lectures do not leverage the power of human connection and emotion as a way to drive messages home and make them stickable.

Shows

Motivation Inc and Team Adventures, from yesterday’s story, had each tried to solve some of these problems. Motivational speakers liven up presentations by turning it into more of a show.  Through showmanship they artfully design their content using story, evolving emotion, clever presentational gimmicks like props, visual aids and performance skills. In addition, motivational speakers are high impact, but low in time investment. And while the really good speakers are expensive for the time they put in, a once off payment is still cheaper, than a process that unfolds over time and consumes both time and money.

However, traditional motivational speakers cannot bring about shift that lasts. They get a high rating from people attending their talks, but a very low rating in terms of creating real shift. What they lack is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. They provide a grand show, but still offers a one size fits all solution that cannot shift the individual. It is a known fact enough speakers that only 5% of the people in your audience will be deeply moved and impacted by your presentation. While many may enjoy it, only 5% will be at a place where your story and their stories intercept to create shift. There is still something missing.

Games

Team building programmes step into this gap by offering game like solutions. A game is not content driven, it is structure driven. This means that within the confines of the game, people have a certain amount of control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A game is also good for connecting people and building relationship, something that often enhance emotional connection either by awakening competitiveness or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around content that can bring about learning, people often leave a teambuilding experience warm and fuzzy, but without a lasting shift notable in the workplace.

Shift

If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – a solution we simply term SHIFT. The Playing Mantis SHIFT model is the subject of the next blog.

 

The Playing Mantis training philosophy

Conventional, also called ‘authoritarian’ training philosophies are usually based on the idea that a student is a ‘tabula rasa’ or clean slate onto which knowledge must be transferred. They are empty vessels into which the trainer can pour information. In contrast contemporary inclusive training models view students as being rich with a personal body of knowledge acquired through experiences within unique contexts. Playing Mantis training follows this philosophy.

1. Training is a conversation not a monologue: for us training is no longer a top down one way process, but rather  a dialogical interaction between equal partners: trainer, trainee and  fellow trainees.

2. Trainees’ needs drive the learning, not the curriculum. : Where conventional training methods presume that there is a notional average learner at which training should be aimed and which determines the standard, we believe that no such assumptions can be made. Rather, an assessment of trainee’s needs and expectations must be made and the trainers own articulated. This is not a once off occurrence, but happens continuously throughout training.

3. Training is driven by difference not sameness: In other words, trainees do not form a more or less homogenous group and those who differ can be categorised. Rather, all people differ from each other and these differences are fundamental to our training planning and provision.

4. Training is facilitation, not transmission: As inclusive facilitators the focus of our training is not the content, and our role not to transmit it. Our focus is rather the trainee with their experience and our role is to facilitate the dialogue between the material and the trainee. We become mediators of knowledge, not transmitters of it.

5. Training is creating experience, not transmitting information: Our teaching aids are therefore not mere extensions of the trainer like a projector transmitting information where trainees participate mainly by looking (reading) and listening. Our learning aids, and indeed our entire methodology, aims to create or draw on experience where trainees can participate with as many faculties as possible. It is a whole brain, whole body approach.

6. Relevance is more important that accuracy: In our sessions we do not so much value questions relating to the material, but rather questions relating to the relevance of the learning for each participant’s individual job and personal journey.

7. There is more than one kind of knowledge:  In our training there is not just the trainer’s subject knowledge in the room, but also the tacit knowledge participants carry in their bodies, and the group genius that arises from the collaboration between trainees as they work to interpret and apply the knowledge.

8. Action and implementation speaks louder than words and learned answers: Responsibility and ownership of the learning becomes that of both trainer and trainees. Assessment then focuses not on the reproduction of knowledge taught, but on its integration and implementation in the workplace – not on words, but on action.

The role of improvisation

Acting in a set context without the benefit of scripted words and only the tacit knowledge accumulated through experience is called improvisation – the central concept around which our training revolves. Improvisation also draws on the ability of a group to generate solutions together and use dialogue to drive the story, and indeed the learning, forward.

How to Communicate Confidently

Grow your voice book cover

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech. Powerlessness and silence go together.” – Margaret Atwood, Writer

I learned the secret of confident speaking when I was 16. I was performing before a judges’ panel at the Stellenbosch Eisteddfod. The category I was performing in? Poetry. The poem? ‘Die Dag op Nuweland’ – a satire by Jeanne Goosen about a typical South African rugby match, a day at Cape Town’s Newlands rugby stadium.

The judges had already heard me perform, but they had called me back to do it again. As I stood there I had no idea why.

Since I was 11 I had taken part in speech and drama classes and competitions. This was the first time I saw the judges requesting a repeat and, believe me, I had been at many of these competitions.

Were they thinking it had been so great that it must have been a fluke and they wanted to see whether I could do it again? Did they not like my performance? Had I failed so miserably that they wanted to give me a second chance?

I remember deciding to forget why, and to give it my best shot.

I also remember doing two very specific things during my second performance.

First, I looked straight in their direction, fixing my gaze on them and unveiling my eyes so that they could see into my soul. Fearlessly, I allowed them to see what I saw in the words.

Second, I remember matching that unveiling of my intention with my voice.

I took the first words: “Hoera Boland en Haak Vrystaat!”

It was as if I had the ball tucked in the crook of my arm, was aiming at the goal line and pumping my legs, running free, fast and furious.

My voice was controlled by my breath, supported by a rock hard diaphragm, allowing it to resonate in a completely relaxed chest cavity, while the muscles in and around my mouth clearly and carefully shaped each word as I followed the rhythm and melody of the poem.

I did not allow tension or fear to show, and not once did I let nerves and uncertainty interfere with my voice.

As I drew the performance to a close, I held the attention in silence for a moment and then broke off my gaze. The audience was quiet for moment and then one of the judges stood up and began to clap. The rest of the audience followed with thunderous applause (well, thunderous for the twenty-odd people who were there for their own children’s performances). It was the first time I received 100% for a performance. I had cracked the secret of pulling an audience into the performance as opposed to bombarding them with it.

Here is the thing: I could only guess at where the judges sat and whether I was looking them in the eyes or not.

You see, I am partially sighted, I cannot look anyone in the eye without faking it. I have no central vision (I call it doughnut vision because all the good stuff is on the sides with just a hole in the middle). If I look straight at anyone, I cannot see them. This can either cause me to look blank and unreceptive, or I can choose to look straight at them and not see them, but unveil my eyes and let them see into my soul.

This is a trick I had learned long before, so that the cute, cruel boys in grade 5 would not call me Crossed Eyes. Unmasked authenticity is disarming, intriguing, rare and memorable.

But once the audience is inside, they must find something there that is worthwhile and meaningful, something that is powerful and promising, especially if they are to be part of it. This is where your voice and your message come into the picture.

At my poetry performance of ‘Die Dag op Nuweland’, I learned to match that pull of the unveiled soul with a voice that did the same, but this time with something worthwhile to offer in return. Drawing the audience into how you see things invites them into a world set apart from their own.

If that world is inviting and engaging, they are moved by the confidence you have in your message and material. This is the opposite of what most people think communication is about. Most people think it is about getting the message across the big divide between you and someone else. They think it is about throwing it out there and hoping it will hit the mark.

It is not about throwing the message out, but about drawing the audience in.

A speaker’s voice must invite confidence and instil trust, while at the same time it commands attention and motivates the audience.

A voice that is both inviting and influential possesses certain physical qualities. Most voices do not have these qualities naturally. Yet, with knowledge and practice you too can cultivate this kind of voice.

As with training for the Comrades marathon (89 km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg), your body needs to unlearn bad habits and relearn new ones. When you train for a marathon, you need to teach your muscles to persist working under strain. You have to condition them so that adjusting to the road and the conditions becomes automatic and you can keep your mind on your goal.

“If you don’t ever stop singing, your voice stays in shape. It’s like the marathon runner. You’ve got to run, run, run to stay in shape.” – Sammy Hagar, Musician

Similarly, speaking invitingly and confidently with a trained voice can become automatic so that you can keep your mind on the message and the audience.

To replace unwanted habits with new ones takes at least six weeks of dedicated hard work. This course is designed to lead you through such a six-week training programme so that the vocal habits you need for confident, inviting communication becomes automatic.

Grow your voice is a six-week course designed to help you automatically

• find a good posture that helps you relax and communicate confidence

• use breath to control your voice and your nerves

• produce a rich, warm voice that invites attention and instils trust

• shape sounds skilfully so that every word is heard without strain

• create emotional engagement by enticing the listener to keep on listening.

“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain

You have just read the introduction to my book: Grow your voice to Speak with Confidence. The book is a 6 week course and includes a training CD with exercises.

Click here if you would like to buy the book.

Come to one of our workshops or courses.

Or contact me for individual coaching options.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren