Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Who Else Wants To Communicate With Clarity And Power?

Tacke your public speaking skills to the maximum level.

The other day, I sat in on a class conducted by fellow trainer Laura Nortz. She was standing in for the regular trainer and was conducting the fifth session of the course. For those of you who have not taken the program, this is the session where participants learn to actively take control of their attitudes, use more physical activity in their demonstrations, and inject more emotion in their public speaking.

As I was sitting there watching these participants go through the process, I had a striking visual. It was so powerful that I felt the physical force of the impact.

The visual? A 1500 Watt Power Amplifier!

Not a wimpy little amp that you put into your car, mind you. I’m talking about one of those big, honkin’ boxes that has a big knob on the front next to two analog "vu meters" and a small water cooling tower on top.

These were the monsters used back in the day to fill college dorm halls with the music of Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. No MP3s, no music-playing cell phones, no PCs with multiple sound card interfaces and a software graphics equalizer. Mobility was not the major concern here. What we typically connected to these units of massive sonic destruction were a receiver, a turntable and two very large speakers a la Michael J. Fox in the opening scene of "Back to the Future". It was all about the power: the more you had, the better you felt.

Now, you may ask, what does a retro stereo system have to do with the 5th session of a Dale Carnegie course?

Here’s the deal. Back then, when we were evaluating top of the line stereos, one of the specifications we looked at was the dynamic range of the system. Dynamic range is the ability of the equipment to reproduce quiet passages of sound as well as loud passages and to do so with a high degree of accuracy.

Dynamic range wasn’t a big consideration when we played rock music because there was typically only one level: loud. But it became an important concern when we played classical music where the sound could go from a quite violin passage to full orchestration in a blink of an eye. If your system didn’t have a wide dynamic range, some of those quiet passages would get just plain quiet. At the other end, if the music was to loud for the amplifier, then the amp would essentially stop reproducing the sound and chop off what it couldn’t reach, a process known as clipping the signal.

As I sat there in that class watching these participants, it occurred to me that each one of them was just like that big honkin’ amplifier.

I saw a number of participants who started with very bland expressions, very "monotone" voices, and very boxed body movements, move out to having very expressive faces, dynamic voices and some very wild body movements in their public speaking projects.

I could see their faces go from being expressionless and unmoving to being very dynamic: smiling, frowning, furrowed brow, squinting eyes, wide eyes... you name it, their faces did it.

I could hear their voices going from being flat, monotone and unemotional to moving across a wider spectrum: shouting, whispering, screaming, talking like Mickey Mouse, talking like Barry White. They used everything their voice had to give in their presentations.

I watched as they started out holding their bodies in one position confined by an invisible box to allowing their bodies to move: Hands up, arms wide, kneeling, jumping, stooping, bouncing from one side of the room to the other. They let their bodies explore a wider range of motion.

Surprisingly, none of them ever reached the "max volume level" where they were "clipping the signal".

The dynamic range of human expression and emotion is extremely wide. Yet, so few of us ever take advantage of the full range. We fall into comfortable habits, trying not to rock the boat for fear of upsetting the status quo and try to maintain a controlled demeanor in our work environments. In fact, we only come out of our shell and are expressive when coached and encouraged to do so. Yet, when we do come out and use everything we have to get our message across, our audience listens to what we have to say and has a good time in the process.

If we are to take advantage of everything that life has to offer and use our talents to the maximum, we will need to stretch beyond our current perceived limitations and use everything at our disposal. And we’ll need someone on our side to give us feedback. Someone to give us some coaching and help us take advantage of everything that we have available to us.

When you think about it, that is what life is supposed to be like. Life is meant to be lived with passion and vigor. And we can’t do that confining our movements, restricting our communication abilities and living in a box.

Live your life to the full dynamic extremes, not flatlining down the mediocre middle of the road.

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