Monday, September 8, 2014

One step and before you know it...

Students on the march; Union College Class of 2018!
I have just come back from my final first-year college-drop-off and I am experiencing mixed emotions. There is a feeling of accomplishment (not to mention relief!) at seeing your child set off on the road to independence, and yet. . . . As the Dean of Students said to the Class of 2018 when he welcomed them (just before we were instructed to say final good byes), "you might see your parents shedding a few tears, but it's not for you; it's because they are wondering where the time went!"

Fortunately, I can dive into work this week. I am lucky to have work that I love: coaching my clients gives me the opportunity to be always learning, thinking about something I have never thought about before, or looking at the world from an entirely new perspective. My clients are smart people; they talk about complicated, interesting things.

My job is to help them talk about these complex things in a way that helps others understand. Helps their listeners not just kinda sorta "get it,'' but understand it so well that true communication can happen, decisions can be made, problems can be solved, action can be taken.

As I reflect on the process I use to guide them, it strikes me as similar to helping my son learn how to walk. His first tentative step led to a surer one; it soon became a run. After that it seemed no time at all till he had become a sure-footed midfielder, then a fast base-runner. Yesterday he marched off to college. Everything started with that first, wobbly step.

My clients have mastered the steps necessary to rise to where they are. But they are all self-aware people who want to improve their communications, work for clarity, find that perfect metaphor or example to drive their meaning home. And they know, no matter how expert they are--or maybe in fact because they are so expert--they sometimes have to go back to basics to get started on the right foot.

We work on breaking down elaborate, possibly perplexing, explanations, uncluttering overly detailed power points. Saying more with far fewer words (and conveniently allowing more time for Q & A!). It is wonderful to hear about their successful outcomes. But I know beforehand they will succeed, because I can see how committed they are to the process of developing their content and delivery. They really dig in and explore as we search for creative, original (less pro forma, less expected) ways to make their messages soar. The "fixes" might seem minor to others, but for the author-presenters, even subtle perspective shifts and small tweaks can add up to a big improvement. 

And when the times comes to deliver, they're off and running--enjoying the experience as much as a child running on a beach on a warm summer day. Or a college student marching toward his future!

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