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Find your light

 

I’ve been collaborating with a colleague who teaches performing arts in putting together a “stage presence” workshop for educators and presenters. Our joint approach was sparked by a hallway conversation a few months ago about how stage and theatre performers have much in common with teachers: both need to foster an immediate, emotional connection with the audience/class, and both need to create and sustain an atmosphere of excitement, engagement and inspiration. In addition, all performers, teachers and presenters occasionally experience equipment malfunctions, bad venues, challenging audiences, and unexpected events. What separates the veterans from the beginners is in how we respond, improvise and model ‘grace under pressure’.

A common axiom among theatre performers is to “find your light”. That is, step out onto the stage and find the spotlight. Lately I’ve been thinking about the implications of metaphorically finding your light. In a classroom or lecture hall there aren’t usually spotlights and curtain calls, and the best educators are more occupied with facilitating students’ learning as opposed to occupying centre stage. So, what does finding your light mean in the context of presentation and teaching skills?

I think that in teaching and presenting, our “light” is our truest, most authentic self. If we can model authenticity in a group, with all of the attendant risk and vulnerability that entails, we encourage others to do the same. It is something of a paradox – approaching a presentation as a conversation versus a performance is the essence of great performance! Theatre ‘works’ when it’s a conversation with the audience (either explicitly in experimental theatre, or implicitly in traditional “never break the fourth wall” approaches). And while acting, by definition, involves assuming a character, great actors fully inhabit their character. All that we teachers/presenters have to do is fully inhabit ourselves.

There is something about stepping up to the front of the room that makes people freeze up. It’s a shame when that happens, because we are most engaged when we encounter others as their real selves. Finding your light is about shining your light – for all to see.

 

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Artifice and performance are the enemies of engagement

 

I gave a talk yesterday on presentation and facilitation skills, and one of the key themes was the importance of shifting our focus away from ourselves (“Am I doing a good job?” “Do I measure up?”), and directing our attention to the needs and interests of the audience. This marks the crucial shift from performance to conversation.

Paradoxically, at the same time we also need to pay attention to being ourselves. I was struck once again by the “simple but not easy” axiom as it relates to authenticity. On one hand, what is simpler than just being who we are? But on the other hand, what is harder than offering our real, true self in front of a large (or smallish) group?

“The snow goose need not bath to make itself white.

Neither need you do anything but be yourself.” (Lao Tzu)

 

I’ve never seen a snow goose, but I’ve seen quite a lot of snow this winter. And up close every snow flake is unique and beautiful.

The most engaging presenters are fully focused and radically authentic.

 

 

 

 

 

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