Sunday, June 17, 2012

My morning with Hillary and Madeleine

Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright kicked off the inaugural Women in Public Service Project Summer Institute  last week at our alma mater, Wellesley College, and I was there!

The theme of Day One was "The Importance of Storytelling." I was one of many speakers and trainers invited to join the WPSP for its two-week Institute. Its mission: to build a generation of empowered women leaders. When I was asked to come and help these emerging global leaders share their stories, I jumped at the chance! Even as cultural differences loom large, the truth is that every civilization around the globe, since time immemorial, has depended on its storytellers. Sometimes they are truth-tellers and witness-bearers (and there are quite a few of those at the Summer Institute). Sometimes they are the dreamers and visionaries.

But we all have stories that need to be told, truths or dreams that can only be shared through narrative structure that relies on a beginning, a middle, and an end. And we learn anything more easily when it is framed as a story, because our brains naturally accept such a structure. We stay "on track" with any speaker who can guide us down that path.

On Monday afternoon (after the festivities of the morning - see above) I was fortunate to be preceded by the incomparable Judge Nancy Gertner. She recounted a number of professional situations in her career as both attorney and judge when stories supported and proved her point.

I began my tutelage as the delegates engaged in role-playing, working in committees and giving formal policy presentations. My job was somewhat complicated by the fact that many of the global delegates were speaking in English, their second or third language. And some, knowing the importance of their subject matter, were reluctant to use stories to illustrate their points. They were not eager to add the  "distractions" of such narratives to their efficient, ordered analyses. I think they harbored a not-uncommon view that stories trivialize a presentation, undermining the speaker's authority.

But there were others who used stories extremely well. And they showed their sister delegates how to incorporate them to make a point: their eyes lit up, their bodies became energized when entering the "story" portion of the presentation. Such engagement showed clearly that this strategy makes presentations come alive. And makes the listeners care. And listeners act upon what they care about.

Story is a powerful tool!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

No time to blog

I took part in the Opening Day festivities of the Women in Public Service Project Summer Institite earlier this week, which I will blog more about later.

And I am busy assembling the cast and creative team for my play, Becoming Calvin.

So I really did not have time to blog this week! But I did get out the June edition of my newsletter, Notes from the Speaker's Bubble. The lead article is about the value of going back to the beginning once you have mastered a discipline or practice. Very helpful when you're stuck creatively or otherwise in a rut. If you like would like to subscribe to my monthly newsletter, sign up here.

Will get back to blogging more soon, I hope!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What we can learn from "Acting!"

Actors love to act! But of course, the best don't let you catch them in the act of acting. Baaaad acting, the kind we associate with Jon Lovitz's Master Thespian, loves to call attention to itself. Good acting, well... that is somewhat indistinguishable from "being" -- on a very focussed level.

I have been auditioning actors for my upcoming production of the play I wrote three years ago. It has been a long journey to get to this point, and now the fun is starting! I love meeting actors, and there are many talented ones in the DC area. I have been amazed and gratified by the number of gifted men and women willing to be a part of our adventure.

And what an adventure it is! I am playing a lot of roles myself: wearing both playwright and director hats, at the moment (also doing the day-to-day producing work, but that's another story. . .) That may be why I am most attracted to actors who let the story be the star, not themselves. They do not spend time being clever and thinking up "bits" to enliven the scene; they work to bring the scene -- as written -- to life! The fact that they trust the text speaks volumes, I think, about they way they work as artists.

I tell my Adult Ed acting students, as well as my public speaking clients they, too, need to trust the text. Sometimes this is more difficult, especially if they haven't fully prepared. But here's the professional advice I give them: You Need To Prepare. I know they already know this, but sometimes you just have to hear something from an "expert" to believe your gut instinct. And to act upon it.

Make the time, do the preparation. Then you can relax and just be. Be the conduit for the message. Let it pass through you freely. You will communicate more clearly if you can just let it flow, and not clutter  it up with cleverness that comes from forgetting that it's not about you. It's always, always -- in theatre, in a speech, in a conference call -- about the message!