Learning to Fall Well: Lessons from Unicycle Riding

I dusted off my old unicycle and brought it down to the bike shop where they put on a spiffy new Specialized tire called the Renegade.

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While circling the cul de sac last night on my spruced up one wheeler, my husband Steve encouraged me to put on my helmet.  My initial response was that I didn’t need it since I had never worn one growing up and I didn’t injure myself when I fell.  After a few minutes, common sense and an abundance of caution led me back into the garage to get my helmet.  It was fun to ride on something that I learned to balance on 40 years ago but you can never be too careful.

Strong and vivid childhood memories came rushing back and they reinforced a key concept I recently read in Ray Dalio’s book titled Principles.  Learning from our mistakes is key to growing and developing new skills.

I was reminded that it is okay to try something new and fall down. If we are going to learn a new skill we should not be afraid of failing, in fact, we should look at our failures as the ultimate learning experiences.   This is also the Agile mindset which embraces experiments and encourages doing, testing, reflecting and adapting in an iterative manner.

When I was 10 years old, my eldest brother, Billy gave me a unicycle for Christmas.  It was a shiny steel Schwinn with a black leather banana seat.  I was so excited and couldn’t wait until spring arrived so I could take it outside and ride it. MyfirstredUnicycle

I knew that I had to learn how to balance in order to ride but I was ready for the challenge.  Little did I realize just how hard it would be since my memory of mastering my first coaster bike at age four was that it was simple, quick and easy.

When learning to ride a bicycle, I didn’t use training wheels and was helped by Billy holding on to my sissy bar and running along side me as we traveled on Maiden Lane.  After a few sprints up and down the block, he encouraged me to keep pedaling so I could balance and ride on my own.  In little time,  I was off to the races and just a bit wobbly.

There are no training wheels when learning to ride a unicycle-  just continuous practice and persistence.  You have to experiment and try an action in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.

I had to continually fall and fall again until my muscles and my brain learned how to balance.  I practiced for many weeks by holding on to the side of my brother John’s 1973 blue Chevy pickup.  I went up and down the length of the truck until one day I got to the end of tailgate and kept going.  It was a wonderful feeling of freedom and I remember thinking “What do I do with hands now?”.   In the end, I used my hands to wave hello and goodbye to all my neighbors and friends.

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A 1973 Chevy like the one my brother John had

I road my unicycle all over Spotswood NJ in the early 1980s and loved the responsive steering it provided. You could turn on a dime and make quick 90 degree turns just by rotating your hips.  It was fun, lighter and so much easier to stow than a bicycle.

Learning to balance on one wheel wasn’t a quick and easy endeavor but in retrospect, I think it helped prepare me for the future challenges I would face in life.  I had to experience what didn’t work, learn from it and try again. Over and over and over.

Sound familiar?

Making mistakes and falling well are part of the process of learning. 

I appreciate Ray Dalio’s reminder of this important principle and for all the happy memories of my Spotswood unicycle adventures!

Remember:  It’s okay to try something new and fall. 

It’s even better when we learn from our failures and do it better the next time!

 

You Want Me to Change?

 

You want me to change?

What a simple but profound question to ask. What a bold request to make.

Change is hard. Change is painful. Why do I need to Change?

In the spirit of being Agile, I’d rather talk about adaptive transformation. It sounds so much more fun and interesting!

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Looking back in my blog archives, I realize that I have dipped my toe into this topic a few times in articles like “A Tower of Change” and “Dying to Adapt”.  I was having fun with my Tarot cards in late 2016 and the Death and Tower cards kept showing up so I reflected on them and wove them into the chaotic current events of the day.   “A Matter of Perspective” and a few other articles also danced around this difficult and daunting theme.

As I watch the train wreck that has become our nation’s political discourse, I am concerned that people are losing the ability to communicate with each other. How we converse and share information has changed so rapidly and dramatically in just 10 years that it makes my head spin.

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The Facebook and Twitter threads I see today make me wonder, are we able to “change” another person’s mind or position on anything?

As witnessed on social media every day, I don’t see much give and take on ideas where people disagree. I see a whole lot of confirmation bias and reinforcement of one’s existing views and values. I see many instances of digging in on positions and not much changing or adapting.

Why is it so hard to Change?

If I called you live on the phone right now and asked you to describe what change feels like, what would you say?

For me and many others the adjectives painful, stressful and uncomfortable would probably top the list.

The DailyOM blog by Madison Taylor sent me an article last week titled “Anxiety about Change”.   It seems to be on the minds of many people.

Change is Difficult. No Pain, No Gain, right? Every competitive athlete understands this mantra but most people’s default setting is to take the path of least resistance. The easy way and the status quo are like a close, dysfunctional couple and breaking up is hard to do!

At work I keep hearing the words and phrases Transformation, Agile Maturity, Accelerators and Radical Change being used in the context of staying competitive and relevant in the market. Being a disruptive Change Agent is a good thing in today’s world and it is being rewarded with dollars, likes and followers. Adaptive transformation is sometimes critical to one’s survival.

If change is such an important aspect to survive in this world, why is it so hard?

Why do humans usually respond to change with the reflective impulse to resist it?

Most of our major change of life events are made easier and less stressful with rituals and ceremonies that typically involve the abundant intake of food and/or alcohol.

 

Think about graduation parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funeral repasts. These are all times of big and scary change.

 

Evolve or die may seem a bit extreme but is an understood reality in our competitive business and technology world today. Remember what happened to Kodak moments and our once beloved Blackberry devices. They didn’t transform quickly enough and now they are a footnote in history.

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In more tame Agile terms, the iterative process of Build, Test, Inspect and Adapt is a continuous and beautiful flow of events that occurs over and over in short time increments (sprints). This flow makes change easier since it is done is smaller chunks (think baby steps).

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Playdough and Juggling Balls displaying Incremental Change

And if you fail, it is best to Fail Fast and start sprinting again.

I’ll close with the wise words of Ray Dalio from his book “Principles where he states:

“Evolution is good because it is a process of adaption that generally moves things toward improvement.”

“The faster one appropriately adapts, the better.”

I also appreciate Mr. Dalio’s equation: Pain + Reflection = Progress

The question is: Are we ready to embrace the discomfort and potential failure so that we can change and get to a better place?

Are we open to adaptive transformations to get us to a higher level?

None of my questions have simple, easy answers but I do think that if we strive to keep our lenses clear and both eyes open like I discuss in  “A View on Balance”  and “A Matter of Perspective“ then perhaps we can frame our challenges in a new light and take the small, incremental steps to evolve to a different and better way.

Looking at an issue or a challenge from a completely different angle can help us adapt and evolve to improve the situation.

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On the topic of changing other people’s views and opinions on Social Media – upon further reflection, I don’t see this as a reasonable or easily attainable goal and will instead focus on changing myself in the hope that others will see my values in action.

So let’s hear it for real live Adaptive Transformations!

Taken in smaller, bite-sized chunks, change doesn’t have to be so painfully hard.

Fun footnote:

The title of this blog is the chorus of this catchy tune by the group Churchill.

Click here for the fun and  cool video of the song “Change”.

I listened to this tune while writing these words and it gave me additional motivation and inspiration. It greased the skids in my mind and helped me get unblocked. Maybe it can do the same thing for you.

 

Stranger Things Part 2: The Resurgence of D&D

Once upon a time in a land called Spotswood, there lived a small band of boys who wanted to escape to faraway places. Some were heroes and some were villains but all were creatively powerful. The young lads were named Peter, Chris, Bob and Jake. Led by a Dungeon Master, they met every week to map out their adventures and roll the dice for their fate.

The group ducked out of the doldrums of tedious tasks from school and created a magical world beyond anyone’s dreams. It was wondrous place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation was the boundaries of their imaginations.

A small square of land inside the boundaries of the brook and the streets of Bruning, Maiden and Manalapan became mystical whenever the boys met to embark on their adventures by waging war against the monsters.

Each boy became a rich and clever character with varying abilities and they often worked together to strategize, solve problems and overcome challenges. Other times they plotted and schemed and sought more control and power.

Some were Human and some were Elves. Others were Dwarfs or Wizards.

No matter what class they were, they assembled face to face around the table to slay monsters like Dragons, Giants, Orcs and Demogorgons. 

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In my last article “Friends Don’t Lie and other Stranger Things”, I highlighted how the elements of Freedom and Adventure were more prevalent for kids growing up in 1980s and were fostered by the very popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). The lack of electronic distractions combined with the creative power of the face-to face interactions with a dedicated group of ongoing characters propelled a generation of geeks and nerds into one of the most innovative and explosive periods of American prosperity, the 1990s.

Dungeons_and_Dragons_-_Chapter_1One of the things that fascinated me most about the Netflix series, Stranger Things, was the central and influential role the D&D-like game played. The plot, time frame and characters were perfectly set and most Generation Xers will proudly tell you that the story line would not have worked as well in another other decade.

 

When I was a young girl, my heroes were Wonder Woman and Samantha Stephens from Bewitched. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorite books thanks to my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Muschla. So as you might imagine, I love the idea of average, ordinary possessing special powers that enables them to kick ass and defeat the stronger villains and monsters.

Role-playing games like D&D are so popular because they so strongly tap into that primal urge to be secure and defeat any threat to one’s safety. It is all the more fun and appealing when you add in a sprinkle of magical powers that help you slay an evil foe with a bit of fire and flair! Merlin and Harry Potter showed us this.

Although I wasn’t an elf or a witch or even a fairy, I had a carefree and adventurous childhood growing up in Spotswood, NJ. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other by name and we all played together in the streets and explored in the woods and by the outlets, rivers and lakes.

I grew up on a small street called Maiden Lane and soon branched out with friends on Bruning Lane and Manalapan Road. After junior high school my world expanded to include friends from faraway places like East Brunswick, Milltown and Old Bridge (they were really only a few miles away).MaidenLanePorch_cropped

The close-knit friendships we forged in the 1980s were organic and lasting. The creative minds and sense of unlimited potential propelled us on an exciting journies to battle strange enemies and malevolent beings. Little did I know it would send me to the Persian Gulf in 1990 to fight in a war against Saddam Hussein but that is a story for another blog!

During school, my circle of friends was diverse and interesting included a quirky group of kids. They were mostly marching band members who were smart and dare I say slightly dorky. I had the fun and privilege to watch some of them play D&D for hours on end and was fascinated by the creativity and power of the character development. The concept of underdog heroes having powers to stop villains appeals to me and perhaps some of this influence is what planted the seed for me to join the US Army in the late 80s.

I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with some childhood friends from Spotswood to get their perspectives on Stranger Things and specially the influence of D&D.   Luck would have it that I was Facebook friends Peter C. (Spotswood SHS class of 82) and he has been a Dungeon Master for the past eight years and played with the boys on my block in the early 80s. Jack Pot! What fun we had talking about Stranger Things and strolling down memory lane, if not Maiden Lane.

Pete explained that D&D puts you into the adventure and makes you a hero. It sparks your imagination and for him and his friends it made their comic books come alive.

As a Stranger Things fan, Pete felt that “the D&D connection in the show allows the kids to relate to the weird events having around them. They have readied themselves for these battles. D&D has taught them to be heroes and they are putting it use fighting the Demongorgon in the Upside Down. Mind Flayer and Truesight are also out of D&D and are referenced in Season 2.

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The New Yorker magazine recently published an article by Neima Jahromi titled The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons and Dragons” (Oct. 24, 2017) and it summarized well some of the key ideas I had percolating in my mind after binge-watching Stranger Things Season 2.

The themes of escaping and being “off the grid”, connecting with a close and trusted circle of friends and fighting a common enemy are alluring and powerful in any decade.   The creativity that is unleashed by unplugging and sitting face to face around a table for hours is amazing and satisfying for many people. The level of immersion, concentration and focus that results from this type of experience is also something that is lacking our in hyper distracted and multi-tasking world.

This is why! This is the reason why Stranger Things resonated so strongly with me and millions of others.

People long to escape and share their stories and experiences. Role-playing games like D&D bring people together and gives the group sense of camaderie and belonging.

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Like the band of boys from the land of Spotswood, you can enter a magical world that is an exciting place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation is the bounds of your imagination. You can become a long-standing character that can grow in skills and power. You can be a force for good or you can chose to become a monster. No matter what, you will have fun and shared adventures with a trusted circle of friends.

Friends Don’t Lie and Other Stranger Things- Part 1

“The Past is a foreign country: They do things differently there”.

–L.P. Hartley 1953

Why am I longing for the year 1984 like it is some quaint, simple and authentic nation that values loyalty and character?   Is nostalgia clouding my view and causing me to misremember this strange decade that is now viewed as “retro” by the Millennial and Z generations?

I blame this recent love and fascination with the 1980s on the popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I finished watching season 2 three weeks ago and it really has me obsessing about big hair, parachute pants, and the video games Pac-Man and Asteroids.

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Movies seemed bigger and better forty years ago and we were forever changed by ET, The Terminator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Ghost Busters and Gremlins.   The themes of good vs evil seemed more simple, sincere and powerful. Films were more about entertaining and less about lecturing.  The plots and characters seemed more fun and whimsical. Being an adrenalin junkie, I loved the intense adventure, risk taking and the fearless dedication to noble and sometimes scary causes.

I found myself pondering the question of why Stranger Things resonated so strongly with me and millions of others?

Being a proud and slightly older member of Generation X,  I reached back into my memory banks with the help of photos, high school year books and interviews with childhood friends.  From this I distilled the following four reasons for why the early 1980s were so totally awesome and how the Stranger Things cast and plot exemplified them:

  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Loyalty
  • Character

The tight group of friends in Stranger Things had an important and secret mission on their hands and I related to the huge amount of Freedom they were afforded by their parents.   As a latch key kid with both parents working, I had large  amounts of time on my own where I could explore and be with my friends.

Unsupervised Adventures were another hallmark of growing up the in the early 1980s.  For me, the only planned or scheduled events were sporting events at school (or via a bus) during the week, orchestra and marching band practices.  Most of my memorable experiences were outside playing in the street, at the lake or in the woods. By far the most exciting adventures were spontaneous.

Defeating the demogorgon and rescuing Will from the Upside Down was the ultimate adventure in my book.  I loved how many of the parents in Stranger Things were completely oblivious to what their kids were up to!

The theme of Loyalty really hit home for me during Eleven’s strong expression/tantrum of “Friends don’t lie!”.

Mike, Eleven, Lucas, Dustin and Will had a strong and trusting bond of friendship that enabled them stick together, count on each other and accomplish their heroic mission. I identified with this sense of commitment as I still have loyal connections with a number of friends from my childhood and adolescence.

The concept of Character in Stranger Things resonated with me in two ways with two meanings. First, I loved the character development of the underdog heroes and the references to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). I also felt a strong sense of virtue and moral code among the friends.  I dig more deeply into the D&D influences in my next blog ( part 2 of this series).

I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed Stranger Things. On multiple levels, for a multitude of reasons I became enthralled, reminiscent and excited. While I’ve always been a big Sci-Fi fan (Ray Bradbury rocks), there was something special about this mix of characters, plot and time period. It truly warmed my heart.

Seeing and feeling the loyalty, love and trust of family and friends makes we want to travel home soon to my small hometown so I can take a walk down by the water with my sister, brothers, nieces and nephews.

“The Past is a foreign country: They do things differently there”.

Stranger Things reminded me of just how different our world has become in the past 40 years and how lucky I was to grow up during a time of relative peace and innocence.

I’ll end with a Top 20 List of the things I loved about the 1980s (in no particular order).

  1. Hanging out with friends and listening to records or tapes for hours on end.
  2. Making custom cassette tape mixes. IMG_4511
  3. Watching actual music videos on MTV.
  4. Being able to go over to someone’s house unannounced and just knock on the door and ask if they want to come out and play.
  5. Climbing trees and occasionally having someone break an arm (ok, maybe I don’t miss this part).
  6. Live rock concerts.
  7. Playing in the “dirt piles” behind my house.
  8. Sitting around an open fire in the woods.
  9. Going to Devoe Lake and sitting by the small waterfall overlooking the American Legion post.
  10. Play acting and performing skits for no apparent reason.DSCF8413
  11. Riding our bikes to places my parents didn’t know about ( and would have had a heart attack if they had).
  12. Exploration and the sense of wonder at discovering new and buried things.
  13. Playing kick ball in the street.
  14. Riding my bike and unicycle without a helmet ( it’s amazing I survived).
  15. Swing sets and dodge ball at recess after lunch at school.
  16. Playing video games at the local pizza parlor (Sorrentos).
  17. Jumping off home made, wooden ramps with our bikes.
  18. Storytelling at sleepovers.
  19. Overalls and white painters pants.
  20. High school yearbooks with hand drawn artwork on the covers.  See the Pegasus photos above and below.

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In Part 2 of this Series on Stranger Things and the 1980s, I’ll dive into the magical world of D&D which played such a pivotal part in the Stranger Things series to date.

I recently interviewed a childhood friend from Spotswood, NJ, Peter C., who shared with me his experience with D&D over the past 39 years and his thoughts and perspective on the early 1980s and the Stranger Things series.

Stay tuned for more tidbits, trivia and insights from a Dungeon Master!

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Seeing It

What is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

Sitting in a stark, bare-walled apartment with most of my possessions packed in boxes  Churchstaircasehelped clarify my reality last month.  The lack of distractions (no TV, no pictures, no knick knacks) enabled me to focus on what is important and clearly see the challenge (and the monster puzzle) at hand.

Yes, I’m moving again for the 21st time since I graduated college but this time is different since I did most of the packing on the weekends after going to yoga class. These weekly treks to Yoga Yoga in North Austin were not just any class. They were inspirational and dare I say, life changing. The two instructors, Lisa and Kimberly are amazing examples of strong, grounded woman and they helped me more than they know.

When the dreaded day came and I needed to pack the kitchen, I had an exciting new angle and attitude about it.

If you want to resolve something- you have to look at it… really look at it. These were the wise words I heard from Lisa. I was reminded to see things again for the first time, like a beginner entering a yoga pose.

A camera workshop I recently attended in Bastrop, TX, taught me to step back and look at the big picture and to zoom in closely to see important details.

All of the ideas that had been swirling around in my head came together with a simple, yet brilliant principle- “The Oz Principle” to be exact. This book by Roger Connor, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman was introduced to me at work this year and provided simple yet elegant steps to accountability. Like following the yellow brick road to get to the Emerald City, you put one foot in front of the other on and take the following steps:

  • See It
  • Own It
  • Solve It
  • Do it

It coalesced for me in my barren Austin apartment when I focused (no pun intended) on the See It part. I also took out my camera to document the process so I could share it with you in this blog.

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Before I dove right into fixing and solving my problem at hand, I took a breath and a step back and truly viewed the challenge at hand.  What was I dealing with?

What was my challenge that hot and swampy day in the Austin apartment?

I had the dreaded and monumental task of packing the kitchen for an out of state move. Anyone who has moved before knows the feeling that this undertaking brings up and I’m reaching for my Tums just thinking about it.

As I stood back in the small kitchen space of the apartment, I decided that this time would be different. This time I would solve my problem more efficiently and effectively. This time I would see it before I would solve it. I would solve it before I jumped into action to do it.

For my kitchen-packing project, I also used my Scrum Master training to break down the enormous undertaking into smaller, more digestible chunks.

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For fun and because I’m a Project Manager geek, I documented the steps of my exciting, new packing process and have outlined them below.

Here are the steps for quick and easy kitchen packing:

  1. Empty 1 or 2 shelves or cabinets at time and put everything out on the counter or table.
  2. Look, assess and mentally inventory what you have and how many boxes you’ll need.
  3. Determine what goes together from a packing perspective and physically group them together.
  4. Line up your empty boxes.
  5. Pack grouped items into the same box until it is full.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 for remaining items on the counter.
  7. Once the table or counter is clear, go back to step 1 and empty out another cabinet or shelf and begin the Look and Inventory process again ( step 2).

It was like solving a big puzzle and I had fun with it.

Seeing it help me in this endeavor because I was able to take a step back and truly assess what I was dealing with before I acted to fix the problem.

Seeing the reality in front of you clearly and honestly without filters is one of the most difficult things to do since we all have our internal biases and frames of reference.

So while you may not be packing soon for a move across the country, you will be faced with some daunting and complex challenges ( I like to call them puzzles) in the coming weeks or months.  Problems are part of life and it sure is nice when we have better tools and techniques for clarifying and resolving them.

The light bulb went off when I realized that this concept of “Putting everything out on the counter” and Seeing It could be applied to many other areas of my life.

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I guess it’s like dealing with the elephant in the room.  You have to 1) acknowledge that you have an elephant ( or a smelly fish) present, 2) truly see the size and nature of the elephant and 3) honestly assess it and see the reality of the situation.

Viewing the puzzle from various angles and sides is also helpful.  The back side of the elephant  gives you a much different perspective that just seeing the trunk or the leg.

 

So what is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

What puzzle/obstacle/opportunity are you ready to see clearly before you jump right in to solving?

Remember the Oz Principle of Seeing It, Owning It, Solving It and Doing It.

For when Dorothy finally arrived at the beautiful Emerald City to see the Wizard, she had to draw back the curtain to see the true situation before she was able to get back home.

 

 

 

Mighty Gumby and the Importance of Flexible Strength 

Ouch! Traveling can be painful. Three weeks of planes, rental cars and unfamiliar beds have wreaked havoc on my back muscles. Plus, I was foolish and did not heed my own advice which is the key point of this article.

Flexibility and Strength are not mutually exclusive and should be worked on in tandem as much as possible. I am thinking of tattooing this reminder on my arm.

Are you one of those naturally flexible people who can do touch your toes without too much trouble? I have always admired this ability since I am not the most limber person in the world. When I was seven years old I struggled more than the other girls at the bar in ballet class. My muscles just didn’t seem as gumby-like as the graceful ballerinas. I was envious and realized that I wouldn’t be joining the circus as an acrobat anytime soon.

After my traumatic dance class experience I longed to be a combination of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman. The power, adaptability and super hearing abilities were alluring to me. I also longed to possess a “Truth Lasso” for obvious reasons.

Though I wasn’t able to touch to toes as a child, I did have strong leg muscles so I gravitated towards sports like soccer, track and cycling. I started weight lifting in college and ultimately joined the army where the goal was to do as many push-ups I could in a two minutes. Strength trumped flexibility because it was easier. Little did I realize how this one sided focus could cause imbalance, restriction and injury. Why did my lower back always get pulled into a painful knot? Why would my neck become so tight that I couldn’t look up?

Photo by Nancy Martch who is pictured below

Neck strain and back pain are so common in our stressed out and hectic world that Yoga centers are popping up everywhere to help unwind, relax and balance the masses.   This year in Austin I’ve been practicing yoga with a steady frequency and I was feeling great. In retrospect, my vacation plans to visit friends and family for my birthday should have included stretching and breathing exercises to keep me in balance. Oh when will I ever learn?

Many people don’t fully understand and appreciate the importance of balancing flexibility and strength. Here’s a good, simple way to think about it:

  • Increasing flexibility without strength results in joint instability.
  • Increasing strength without flexibility results in soft tissue tears, sprains and postural changes.

Thankfully three strong, lithe friends came into my life over the last 15 years and introduced me the power and healing benefits of the ancient practice. What Heidi started in San Diego in 2002, Nancy and Clarissa continue to inspire me to reach for my toes and beyond.

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Photo by Barry Staver

Elastic power leads to balance and stability, helping us physically and mentally in our personal and professional lives. Being grounded and level headed makes you a confident more assertive speaker and leader.

Here’s some great advice I received in yoga class: Flexibility needs to be supported by strength and stability.

Now I happily compliment my push-ups with the all -important child’s pose. My weight lifting reps are interspersed with the ever helpful downward facing dog.

Over the years I have come to marvel at how much yoga has improved my bicycling skills and strength and how my core strength has made my yoga poses so much more grounded.

Too much of any one good thing can lead to trouble and a wonderful blend of complimentary things can launch us to higher levels of achievement and satisfaction.

 

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Strong and flexible muscles are happy and less prone to injury.

So be like a mighty Gumby- your back and neck muscles will thank you!

 

You Have a Seat at the Table, Now What?

Much has been written about the strength and impact of women’s voices in corporate America and the level to which they are acknowledged and perceived. What we say and how we say it are critical success factors and key skills to refine and perfect. I would even go as far to say that how we present our message is an art which needs to be thoughtfully approached and practiced for maximum effect.

As more women get promoted into leadership and executive positions, the next challenge and question is-  how do we make certain that our input is heard? How do we connect and reach people to influence, motivate and inspire them?

Given my frame of reference and experience as a leader over the last 28 years, I’d like to share with you some thoughts, ideas and suggestions on how to ensure that your voice is  heard and respected.

My background is deeply rooted in the area of communication both in the military and in leadership roles in a number of large corporations in the US. I served as a Signal Platoon leader during the first Gulf War and my main job was directing and projecting my voice to give orders and commands to a communications unit that deployed cellular networks on the battlefield. I also received extensive training on radio communications and protocols during hostile operations. This is where I learned the importance and value of being bold, being brief and being gone. The mantra that stuck with me was: “Be bold, be brief, be gone”.  Make your point quickly and then be still.  Speak, wait, listen and learn.

After my time in the Army, I worked in various fields including Sales, Consulting, Project Management and Agile leadership, all of which rely heavily on strong communication skills to be effective.

I have been an active member in Toastmasters International since 1994 and enjoy giving speeches and mentoring others to improve their confidence and communication effectiveness. Basically, I’ve been working on honing my ability to connect, articulate and transmit information, stories and messages to others since the mid 1980s.

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As a long time Toastmaster, I’ve been told that I possess a “Confident Command” when I speak. It is from this perspective that I present to you some tips and techniques  on the topic of Powerful Speaking.

1 – Project your voice

Before you utter your first word at the table, on the conference call or at the lectern, take a long, deep breath and get grounded in your thoughts and intention. Relax your neck and shoulder muscles ( I use a technique of firmly pressing the palms of my hands together for 8 seconds- usually done under the table where I am sitting prior to standing for my presentation).

Be mindful of your volume and pitch. Avoid a shrill sound which is often overly high and piercing in quality. Even tones and breathing are your friends.   Practice your key foundational statements ( opening and closing) in advance so you can ensure that you project your message clearly and strongly.

2- Make your point quickly and succinctly

Back to the “Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Gone” mantra. Make sure that your main point is clearly stated up front and with power and conviction. Declare and proclaim the situation, facts and impact in a short 1-3 sentence statement of clarity and impact. Get their attention, connect and then elaborate on your point if necessary.

Providing brief stories and examples can help support your point and knowing your audience’s concern and frame of reference is key to ensuring that your message is heard, understood and hopefully appreciated.

Know your facts cold. This will help you deliver in a solid and unwavering manner.

Remember, Less is More.

3- Know your value and what you uniquely bring to the table.

Be prepared.

Be authentic.

Be steady.

Be assertive.

You’ve got this!

4- Having a Positive and Grounded Tone

It’s not only what you say but how you say it has never been more true.

As a woman friend and outstanding speaker from Laughing Matters Toastmasters club in Austin recently shared with me:

“Don’t be wimpy. Don’t be whiny. Don’t be pissy. Don’t go postal.

Rather, have a tone of confidence, composure, and quiet conviction.”

Another tip to have a good, solid tone is to tap into your Personal Power.

Here’s an energizing quote that I read on DailyOm.com two days ago.

“ Power is not about exerting our will over others, it is about being in complete truth with ourselves. When personal power is balanced, we are neither meek nor overbearing.”

When we have harness our Personal Power we:

  • Have a clear sense of our strength and the impact we can have on others
  • Are worthy and deserve to be heard
  • Come from a place of humility and strength- not entitlement

When speaking from a position of balanced strength, our tone and non-verbal communications send the message that “ I have something important and valuable to contribute”.

Goddess-Pose

The Goddess Pose

So take your seat at the table, speak up and let your voice and powerful message be heard!

I hope that this article was helpful and connected with you in some way.

Please send me your comments, questions and thoughts.

This is Brenda Smull signing off. Over and Out.