Person of the Week
Presentation and Performance Instructor
When people say to me, “You’ve got to understand: I have issues. I can’t do this,” they are talking themselves out of their own freedom for a moment. I tell them, “If you would like to be free, I can teach you how.” I point out to my students that the word “self-conscious” tells the whole thing: conscious of yourself rather than conscious of ideas.
1. What led you to the mission of being a presentation and performance instructor?
It was not a short, easy journey. I was really self-conscious when I was a child, not shy as far as my personality goes, but just really uncomfortable being in front of people – performing, speaking, and so forth. I carried that all the way through my schooling. When I was in college, I did try out for a couple of plays. Somebody thought I would be good at acting and I performed in some shows, but I was still really anxious. Many people are, so that didn’t make me special, but it bothered me that I couldn’t find a way to relax and still do what I had to do.
The years went by after college and I performed, acted, sang, and made a career of it – helping to run a theater and so forth. Then I took a three-week submergence course out in Southern California. It was taught by a woman who became my mentor and very dear friend. In that class, I got this whole new vision. It was amazing and changed my perspective on what it means to be in front of an audience and to give to them. When you have people listening to you, it’s about them and their needs; it’s not about “you” at all! It was humbling to see this. It was scary because I had to drop off decades of learned fear, apology, and silliness. I was still myself, of course. I had to discover that you can still be who you are when you drop off all the “icky” stuff. (This is because the crummy things aren’t really who you are at all.)
Since that time I have taught for other companies, I’ve done some freelance work, some ad hoc classes that I teach for the adult ed program in my community – that type of thing. In December of last year, I decided to learn what it means to do this as a business – come what may; you know, learn the ropes of entrepreneurship; stick my neck out; be more consistent. So that’s what I am doing now.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
This business has brought me to a place of freedom. I call my business, Free Your Talents. You can go to my website and read postings that explain this concept of being free – freeyourtalents.com or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/freeyourtalents). What I do in my classes is hold a mirror up to people and show them their freedom, their joy, and their naturalness. When they present or sing or teach or play an instrument – or whatever they have to do with people watching – they can still be themselves. I love it! It’s important and fun, and it gives people joy.
I’m raising two children by myself. As a single person, I adopted two children and have found that it is really easy to stay focused on the demands of that work to the exclusion of other things. It’s important work, of course; my children really do need for me to be available to them. The demands are constant and up to this point I’ve needed to place them at the forefront.
I think that I am at a point now where I have to tap into my gifts and beyond my own circle, my own home. I’ve learned that I can teach well and effectively, and that this ability can be a great blessing to others. So I had to take hold and say, “Okay, you’ve got this talent, you’ve got this ability to help people, and it’s not going to happen if you don’t exercise it.” It’s like a muscle – it’s not going to get any stronger if you just think, “Yeah, well, I can do that!” without moving things forward. So I’ve forced myself to move beyond the home front here and reach outside that little circle.
But it isn’t easy. You stretch yourself to do something that has a lot of good in it, and it seems to spring a leak – like in a boat – and there is all this upheaval in the family with stuff you used to spend time on. It can get pretty wild at times. But, it’s okay; it needs to happen. It’s just very important to do it – to do something outside the home, something that is demanding and progressive.
Sometimes people will say, “Oh, you teach public speaking.” I cringe when I hear that because even though I have the students get up and speak, that’s not really what the teaching is. The teaching is how to get your thought off yourself. When your thought is off yourself and you’re looking outward, you can do anything you need to do. I’m not trying to teach everyone to be a rock star, or be a powerhouse presenter. I just want to show them how to be themselves. For a lot of people, that’s very scary! You hold a mirror up to someone’s real self. This is a spiritual thing. This is a forever thing. You hold that up and some people turn away and cry. They see it and it is so beautiful and they are not used to that because they’ve had so many layers in the way. Other people say, “Oh, gosh! I feel so free here. This is great!” You don’t always know the initial response you will get.
I read such an interesting quotation this morning by Anthony Paul Moo-Young: “There is an intuitive knowing within us that we are eternal. But this gets covered over with the noise we create while identifying with the impermanent.” When people say to me, “You’ve got to understand, I have issues. I mean I have a whole background of things that you don’t know about. I can’t do this,” they are talking themselves out of their own freedom for a moment. That is the impermanent. That is not permanent. That’s an opinion. That’s a habit. That’s a long held belief.
I hear people say that they are burdened and afraid. Some say they are nervous. Others say, “Well, my palms get sweaty,” or “My face turns red.” I don’t dismiss these concerns in a careless way. This stuff is very real to people when they voice it. I assure them, “If you would like to be free of it, I can teach you how.” That’s what I do.
You know how we convince ourselves that our limitations are who we are? NO, NO, NO, NO! That’s not who we are. I have to be compassionate and love to watch them let go of these things. It’s thrilling to see them drop off this sense of limitation in even a tiny way. Just like the snake can’t get back into its skin or shed, you really can’t get back into that fearful place if you have truly seen through it. When it is witnessed in the class, the students in the audience gain a marvelous window: “I see you! I see who you are!” and they love what and who they see. The implication is: “If I can see who you are, then you’ll also be able to see (and value) who you are, as well.”
3. What was your best day as a presentation and performance instructor?
The best day is when a student, who has struggled or has been wrestling over any number of fears related to presenting discovers this wonderful fact: “I am not the center of everyone else’s universe.” Sometimes this comes to thought while the person is sitting in the classroom; other times, it surfaces during the time between classes. I had a student who was a Shakespearian actor, a lovely, tall, willowy, strikingly beautiful woman. However, she was terrified of being herself in front of people. She didn’t know what to do with her hands or her feet. She blushed. She rolled her eyes. She fidgeted. Without a character to hide behind, she was lost. She would weave bits of Shakespeare into every presentation she gave. This was always entertaining, of course, but it kept her hidden, and the aim was to allow her to come out from behind these characters and share with us as herself.
I would assign the students short talks, teaching them how to be spontaneous and to trust the ideas that would come to them, and then to give them out freely. This lovely actor always worked Lady Macbeth or some other character into her talks because this is where she was comfortable. She was brilliant at doing this.Yet she knew there was a comfort level “in her own skin” that she still sought. About two-thirds into Day Two of the course, she was sitting in her chair in the audience and suddenly she audibly gasped. The look on her face of sheer joy and awe was followed by this statement: “I just realized something. I [she put her hand on her chest] am not at the center of other people’s universe!” (I had been saying this for two days; she needed to hear it in her own thoughts in order for it to be real to her.) Her talks from that point on were totally different. Her body was upright and poised. Her hands knew just what to do – if anything. Her face was radiant. Her classmates and I were saying, “Yea,” because we knew all along how beautiful she was and how glorious her heart was. She had to shift her thinking. She had to change her mind about how she saw herself. When she made this adjustment, her entire demeanor changed.
A few weeks ago, I finished teaching a five-week course. The participants had had time in between classes to ponder what we covered in class and to let go of the burdens they didn’t need to carry. One of them sent me a note, a little testimony about that class. She said, “You know I loved this class. I was already confident speaking in public — if I was well prepared and well rehearsed and could rely on a script. So my goal when I signed up for Free Your Talents was to gain the courage and the ability to give short Children’s Messages at my church without relying on notes or a script. (She’s studying to be a pastor.) I’ve always wanted to talk to them and just tell them a story and I couldn’t do it. I’ve always had to hold onto something — a paper, a note card, a script — in case I forgot. But now I don’t need a script. Now I know I can trust the ideas and trust myself. I can do it! I’m a changed person!” She’d hoped to learn how to think on her feet, to speak comfortably and coherently without notes. And that’s what she took home from the class sessions. So, that’s a great day. That’s a best day for me – when someone sees their freedom, acknowledges it, and realizes, “Now I understand why I am free. Now I understand I can do whatever it is I need to do. And I can do it with naturalness and ease.”
It’s so not about you personally. It’s about love. It’s about giving. It’s about unselfishness. It’s about caring. It’s about others. That’s what makes it work. Each student is so dear, so hard-working, so willing to progress. A person doing this work of “getting over yourself” gets glimpses and with each discovery there is transformation, even in the outward appearance. The smile doesn’t have that grimace and tension, and the laughter is no longer apologetic or awkward. The smile says, “Yes to me and yes to you and here we have this idea we are sharing.” It’s like sitting around the dinner table with a bunch of friends. You laugh and you pound the table and you look at each other and you pause and you listen. It’s all so natural and real. Well, why not take that same comfort level to situations when you’ve got ten, twenty, or a hundred people looking at you? What people love is that you are being real. People really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I know this may come across like a greeting card message and might sound kind of corny, but if you are real and you care about your listeners, something’s happening. Something very fine is happening.
One class I taught was called “Overcoming Performance Anxiety.” There were four women in it. None of them had come for public speaking training; each had other reasons for signing up. One woman stood up and said, “I’m not really here to learn to not be uncomfortable in front of an audience. I don’t really need that.” She explained that she helped coach teenagers who were doing musical instrument auditions. She said, “I just want to get some tips or pointers to help these kids when they try out for state competitions.” It was interesting because she found out quite early on that she really did need the training and she learned a great deal. It could have seemed like bravado that said, “I don’t need it,” but I think that it may have just been a misperception on her part. She didn’t realize that she had some excellent learning in store. People find out that there is no shame in learning, in facing themselves, in releasing what isn’t helping them. Freedom is not ever about shame. It is something we celebrate. That makes my heart dance. There is no need to apologize for ourselves — our backgrounds, our struggles, our needs. There is no need for a lot of anxious labor. It might feel like hard work during the process, but generally speaking it’s about honoring your self, your true self.
4. What was your worst day as a presentation and performance instructor?
That was the day I had to let a student go from my class. It was so hard. There was a student who called me the morning the class was to start to see if she could sign up. I knew there was something not right about taking her into the class, but I took her anyway. There was that magnanimous thing that we do sometimes. We want to be kind. We want to be generous and godly, whatever it is – that obligatory goodness thing. But my antennae were saying, “Hmm. Not so sure here.”
She came to class. She came just to check it out. She really loved the first session. I told her she could do the first one for free and if she wanted to come to the rest, fine. Each week she came and her behavior was troubling. Other students would say to me (outside of class) that they felt uncomfortable, that she was sabotaging the class, hijacking the class, holding us hostage with the things she did. It was really uncomfortable.
I knew I had to do what was best for the group. There is a whole group “heartbeat” that happens in these classes; you can’t ignore that. Here was this individual who for whatever reason was not placed properly. I say this with deep compassion because there was a major struggle there.
There were four weeks to the class and then a week off because of school vacation and then another four weeks of class. I was going to call this student, as well as all the others, to ask how she was doing with the work and to see what things we still needed to work on. I knew when I called her, though, that I needed to sever this relationship. I guess it is like being an employer and having to let an employee go. Who wants to do that? I’m always hopeful that there will be progress for each student, and there had been some growth with this student, but the relationship had to end.
The conversation on the phone ended up being a wise choice (as opposed to talking in person). The discomfort and the anger that were expressed toward me were fierce and lacking in rational thought, even though I was just asking questions about how the class was going and offering my professional viewpoint. This confirmed to me that I simply needed to let her go. That realization gave me strength and conviction, however difficult the task. In my heart I had to stay calm. I was being berated and verbally abused. I knew I needed to stay with the thought of letting her go – for her and for the class’s benefit. As she was ranting and swearing at me, I thought, “This is not a happy woman in our class. This is not a happy situation and things need to change.”
It was clear the dynamic was not good and that I was not being held with respect. I proceeded. My heart was churning. The message to me was that when you know something is right to do, trust that you can do what you must do. Honor that because it will be a blessing for all. This was not a little personal thing that I was going to fix by changing things around. Letting her go was a blessing for everyone involved, even though the process was awfully unpleasant. That was the toughest. That was the hardest day I’ve had.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
I have to practice what I preach. I’m being called upon to demonstrate what I tell my students: ideas are bigger than all of us and ideas include what they need for their proper expression. If I’m asking these students to honor that fact, I jolly well better do it myself! Henry Ford said (and I’ll paraphrase): “Ideas are everywhere. They are knocking on your head trying to get in. All you have to do is know what you want, and then don’t worry about it so much and go about your business.”
Going through the hard stuff you have to stay clear and realize that it is not personal even though it feels terribly personal at the time. Whether you are parenting a child who is having a difficult go of it or you’re feeling pushed around by an ongoing series of difficulties at work or at home, you might say to yourself, “Oh man, this is never going away.” But it’s not personal. You have to remove the person from it and find the ideas that will help you sort it out. That is what I did in this case because I finally needed to say, “That’s enough.”
This could have been a phone call that would last for hours. I just had to say, “This is how I see it. I feel that the best plan is that we continue with our course and that you step along to find something that will help you most with your progress. I will send you your money back and we’ll move along.” I was very calm as I spoke to her and I got screamed at for that too. When the hailstones come flying at you and you know you have to walk that path, you move forward. It could be called faith. It could be called grace. It could be called grit. But I think it is called trust: trusting in something bigger than yourself and more reliable than any human thing. That’s God in my life. That’s what I call this power to move forward, whatever the obstacle. It’s this Love that is felt and it’s love that is the thing that is doing the work.
When I had explained what the procedure would be, I said with quiet authority, “Now that we have had our conversation, I’m going to say, ‘Goodbye.'” I put the phone receiver down. Now, that’s hard. I don’t like hanging up on people. I had to take a stand and, in so doing, honor the gift that I’ve been given, the gift of being able to communicate with clarity and with purpose and with wisdom. That gift had to be unwrapped. It had to be given. I held no venom or anger. I did experience some angst and fear to work through afterwards – you know the feeling: “Oh, what have I done?” I do know in my heart that this was the best thing to do for all of us. It proved in the class to be true. I could only trust that this dear one would have the wherewithal to find whatever it was that she needed and the environment that she needed in order to progress.
What are you going to do? Just let it rule the day? You can’t let yourself be bullied or pushed around. Not just by people, but by stuff that is troublesome. I had to take a stand and I think the only foundation I had for it was trust. Nothing builds trust like trusting. The only way to get it is by doing it.
This source of resilience doesn’t run out. You draw upon that which can’t run out. It’s like this well of water that will never dry up. If it feels dry, you probably just need another way to tap the source. I teach people to stand up there and become quiet first. They have to be still before they can speak effectively. That’s asking a lot because so many people think, “Well, I don’t even want to be up here!” Even so, when they quiet their thoughts, their fears, their judgments about themselves and their listeners, that resistance falls away. They discover that they’re actually all right.
How do we find that ability to be quiet, to be still (while people are watching)? I’m holding my hand out in front of me as I tell you this and my hand is open and relaxed and my palm is facing the ceiling. I say, “This open palm shows the quality of thinking that receives ideas. It’s not pushy. It’s not grabbing. It’s not a fist. It’s not going to clunk someone on the head. It’s open and trusting and receptive. When you allow your thought to be as willing as an open palm, ideas come. They do! They come. And you can stand even a little longer in silence and really listen more deeply than you are right now and you will know that’s the idea that you are to express right now.” There is something so comforting and strengthening about doing this; it’s a practice, an on-going work.
At any moment you can do it. I’ve had people come to class and say, “You know what? I got really frazzled in the supermarket the other day because my children were being difficult and I thought, ‘I’m just going to stand here with an open palm quality of thought until I know what to do.’” Sure enough, that quieting of thought brought a new way of seeing, and the disturbance gave way to a better experience in that supermarket.
It’s neat because it’s not just about getting up to perform. It’s that trust I’m talking about — that open, willing, acceptance of good thought in your life. You find you have what you need at all times. You learn not to be sidetracked and sabotaged or drawn off balance. This is a life’s work. We can all do it.