I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
We shall not cease from exploration…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.
NEW YEAR, NEW NOW.
It’s January as I write this. So, let’s talk about beginnings. I have 3 or 4 regular opening stories that I always tell at the start of our first Foundation workshop. In those first few moments I stand or sit in front of a new group. Some of them I’ve told hundreds of times…and yet I don’t get bored of them. Even though I sometimes imagine that I might. How can this be?
Each of the stories has a different purpose. They set a particular tone. They are appropriate to different groups and do different “jobs”. One is better for groups who are (mostly) terrified of public speaking, one is better for experienced speakers who are wanting to learn a new way of approaching public speaking, another is better for groups primarily wanting more authentic connection with their audience.
And I haven’t changed them because they are good. They are stories that actually happened in my life, and they do their jobs really well. I haven’t changed them because I can’t think of any good reason to change them, apart from a desire to “mix things up”.
And sometimes it’s fun to mix things up. To tell stories that I’ve never told before. To experience the novelty of telling a story for the first time, hearing myself saying completely fresh words and feeling the audience reaction. It’s like walking or skiing on fresh snow – there’s a sense of freshness – of going into territory which is open and clean. I run a monthly club for my graduates and most (if not all) of the stories I tell them are ones that have never previously seen the light of day. And I love that.
Yet tomorrow, I will sit in front of a new group of trainees and tell them one of the old stories as they start their journey with me. I’ll probably choose to tell the story I’ve told the most times to any group. And my challenge, like a well-known singer singing one of their greatest hits, is to bring these words alive, as if they were being uttered for the first time. What does it take to do this? And what does this tell us about public speaking and communication in general?
This moment is always fresh
The Greek philosopher Heraclites famously said, “you can never step into the same river twice”. It may the “the same river” and yet it’s always changing. And that is always true of the present moment…if we’re really paying attention.
I may have told this story before and been in “this room” before, but I haven’t told this story to this group before. The group has its own signature energy. As I make eye contact with each individual, the connection feels absolutely unique and fresh. I’ve seen many people before, but I’ve never connected in this way with this person before. And in the event that I’ve met one of the individuals some time ago, they are a somewhat different person to the person they were then and so am I. We are like rivers. We are always changing – with experience, with our moods, with the seasons.
When we are truly paying attention, there is what one of my teachers calls a quality of imminence. The palpable sense that this moment that we are experiencing is created only now and will never come again. And if we can land in that feeling it’s quietly thrilling.
Living the words
As I tell the story that I’ve told before 100 times, I never tell it exactly the same way. This is not deliberate, it’s intuitive. I feel my way into the memory and into the audience that I’m in front of and get a sense of what I want to tell them now. Some details emerge, others recede. I choose different words and analogies. I pause in different places. Other emotions sometimes come through.
I am reliving and re-imagining the experience for this audience. The story is a freshly made, an improvised creation that I am feeling as I’m telling it. I’m not just remembering or saying the words, I’m experiencing them. And as I feel the audience’s response to my telling it, it influences my way of telling.
This is a two-way street. Yes, I’m doing all the talking, but the audience and I are affecting each other. I’m listening to them as much as they are listening to me. There is a felt sense that we are in this together. I’m letting the connection be more important than the content. (Although the events and words are hugely important, the connection between my audience and I is even more important). I can feel it and they can feel it. And when I’m really in it, it’s often electrifying.
This is what it is to connect with a group (or even an individual) in Relational Presence. It’s the essence of authentic connection and speaking. And you can experience it any time you land in the moment, land in eye contact and let the connection be paramount.
Happy new year.
Daniel Kingsley is the Director of Presence Training – he helps people to be authentic leaders and speakers.