It’s Not Me, It’s YOU

Get The Right ‘You Me’ Speaking Ratio

Have you ever wondered why some people have the power to galvanise you into action? What these people get right is their use of the You Me Speaking Ratio when they communicate.

Excessive use of “I” and “me” turns listeners off quick-smart.  I love the joke about the actress who says: “Enough about me! Let’s talk about you! What do you think of my latest movie?”!!!

One of the fastest ways to lose an audience (or the attention of your friends and colleagues) is to talk mostly about yourself and from your perspective.

Get The Ratio Right

According to my research, a language ratio of 10:1 of You:Me is about the right ratio to generate a balanced and inclusive speech. It leads to greater engagement and even ownership of your ideas because the speaker shows how their idea will work for you.

  • Examples of me-centred language: “I”, “me”, “my”, “mine”.
  • Examples of you-centred language: “you”, “us”, them”, “they”, “we”, “our”… “together”, “community”.

Examine the difference for yourself in the next 2 short examples by noticing how you feel when you read them or even better, say them out loud:


“I consider it imperative to make my health my number one priority. All the money in the world will not make me happy if I’m sick. My workshop today will show you how I did it, so you can too. I believe that health equals happiness.”


“All the money in the world will not make you happy if you are sick. We all have so many competing priorities and other people to attend to. This workshop will show you how to clear the clutter of your busy life and how to make your health and you, your number one imperative. Your health equals your happiness.”

Famous Example Of A “You-Centred” Speech

In 1961, American President John Kennedy’s inaugural speech “…ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” uses “me-centred” words only 4 times and uses ‘you-centred” words 50 times. (Now that’s an interesting contrast with the “me-me-centred” speeches given by one of Australia’s most recent Prime Ministers.) So do not let the 10:1 ratio trip you up. It’s not a rule, just a guideline to be aware of if you want to inspire, engage and build trust and an affirmative response from your listeners.

How To Connect & Inspire When You Speak

  1. Take a look at anything you’ve recently written, especially if it’s a “speech” type nature or a self-intro. Identify the proportion of “you” versus “me” centred words.
  2. Emphasise “we” and “us” to keep the spotlight on your listeners or audience. Remember, it’s not about you, it is about them. A speaker or leader is just a temporary conduit of information to help others understand.
  3. Rewrite your speech or report and make it “you-centred” with a language ratio of at least 10:1 “you’s” and “we’s” to “I’s” and “me’s.” Notice and enjoy the difference in reaction.

Whenever anyone speaks, it is to benefit others, right? If not, you are just talking to yourself. And we all know the special terms for that!

If you’ve ever felt you’ve missed the mark when you speak and your friends, colleagues or an audience seem to switch off and aren’t interested in your ideas, examine your You Me Speaking Ratio. Once adjusted to “you-centred” language, you may now become the communicator you’ve always longed to be.

© 2013, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

How To Embrace Audience Applause

Yes! Those Claps Are For You

That glorious moment has arrived! You have finished your speech. Oh, the relief of making it through without a major stuff up. Of course, there was that moment when you stumbled and words evaporated into a curious blankness. Hopefully your face did not betray your bewilderment… Though, you thought you glimpsed a confused look on the face of a lady in the front row. Never mind! You kept calm and carried on as they say and your listeners rewarded your words, energy and effort with applause.

By “applause”, I mean, “acknowledgement” in its many forms. Depending upon your situation, it could be nods, smiles, finger twinkling, back slapping or, hand clapping.

Electric Stillness

Now there is this moment of electric stillness, when your last words hang in the silence. Most of us sensitive speakers and listeners, understand that this so called, ’glorious moment’, is a moment of reckoning.

How will you and your words be received? You thought you did ok, maybe better than ok. But what will other people, important people, think?

Will someone blast you a foghorn of fail, will you be carried triumphant on audience shoulders or simply, sink without fuss into a beige morass as if you had never spoken at all?

All these things can happen. Audiences are fickle things. As are speakers.

In that moment of speech ending, you will now be judged.

Audience Rejection Theory

I have a theory about why so many people end their spoken word presentations poorly.

What I see is: 90% of the talk is great stuff, rah, rah, rah. The final 10% leaves much to be desired. It’s often rushed through so the speaker can scurry back to their chair and quietly reabsorb into the group matrix.

I think fear stops us from accepting applause and acknowledgement. Ever dismissed a compliment and seen the hurt look on your friend’s face? Not taking your applause, is just like that. A slap in the face to someone who wants to give you a gift. 

Have you ever witnessed someone finish speaking, put their head down, avoid eye contact, turn their back and ignore the audience? It’s a sad moment. Enthusiastic clapping slows to a confused splutter. 

There are social norms of behaviour and violating them is uncomfortable. An ungracious and poorly planned ending, stains the impact of a powerful presentation. It’s almost as if the speaker is saying, “I’m going to reject you, before you reject me.”

Some of my clients are terrified of seeing rejection, judgement, pity or scorn in the eyes of others. While understandable, it’s a shame because they also miss seeing admiration, delight, acceptance and understanding.

Of course, no matter how many times you tell them this, they don’t believe it until they’ve experienced it for themselves. The trick is encouraging them to take the risk to look up, hold eye contact and not run away.

How to Embrace Audience Applause

If applause was chocolate, we’d probably stand there with our hands out, wanting more! Generally, applause satisfies the hunger for acknowledgement, rather than the sweet tooth.

This is the three-step process I offer clients who are ‘applause-challenged’:

  1. Anticipate you will receive some sort of positive acknowledgement for your words. When you practise, mentally and physically, include standing or sitting still and silently after your final words, looking at people in the eyes. Then smile and nod graciously in return. It takes seconds but adds years in positive impact.
  2. Understand that public speaking is a two-way relationship. You have just ‘given’ to your audience. Now it’s your turn to ‘receive’. Give them respect in return by listening to their acknowledgement.
  3. Finally, apply this practical sequence:
  • When you are close to finishing, slow your pace and tell your audience you are close to concluding. This sounds like: “When I finish…”, “Just wrapping up…” This cues listeners to expect your ending.
  • When you have ended, stop and take a slow, relaxed breath. Look around, lift your face and smile directly at your audience. Let your hands fall open to your sides. And stay where you are.
  • When the audience has finished applauding, nod, smile or thank them briefly. Then leave, head high, confident walk, no slumping! People are still watching until you exit the speaking space and return to your chair.

Last impressions Last

If the first 90% of your talk, proposal, paper, recommendations, report or speech was fantastic, the last 10% needs to be equally fantastic.

People remember first and last impressions. Memories get fuzzy in the middle. Holding your head high when you finish, even if you were a bit wobbly in the middle, will earn you brownie points for ‘good behaviour’.

To embrace audience applause with courage, confidence and humility is compellingly simple and attractive. You have the power and control to make your last impression last, in a good way.

Yes! Those claps are for you!

(Here’s a link to one of my funny old home videos explaining a little more about the art of ending well and how to embrace audience applause. I’m a bit stiff at first, it takes me a while to warm up, as you do. )

© 2021, Geraldine Barkworth, Australian Public Speaking Coach. The views contained within this article are entirely those of the author. You may reproduce this article if kept in entirety.

9 Great Public Speaking Books I Recommend To Clients

My Favourite Books To Dip Into

To be honest, most public speaking books bore me silly. After many years, I have found 9 great public speaking books I use often and recommend frequently. These are my top picks for finding your unique voice and speaking with natural confidence.

Be Heard Now! Tap Into Your Inner Speaker & Communicate With Ease, By Lee Glickstein

This book changed my life and me to finally find my groove as an authentic speaking coach. Buy, clutch to your bosom, then set it free as you step forward unfettered by fear!

I’m a big fan of Mr Lee Glickstein and his work. His book is beautifully and simply written. It’s filled with oodles of personal growth and public speaking-related stories, transformations and practical examples.

Lee’s approach is relationship based rather than performance based. He shows readers how to transform fear into magnetism simply by becoming present and speaking from the heart. “To be heard, you have to be here, now” is how Lee sums up the power and simplicity of presence. 

Gush, gush, gush. Learn more about Lee’s work and his books:

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide To Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

TED Talks is a fabulous book. Essential reading for the modern presenter. Filled with poignant tips and practical examples of how to use spoken word to creatively get your ideas across in a very short time.

TED Talks is written specifically for writing and delivering a short TED-style talk. It covers the fundamentals of purpose, message, story, structure, delivery, inspiring action and managing your nerves. The book is totally applicable for all styles of presentation. The focus is on communicating your ideas authentically and clearly, not perfect polished oration.

Exciting, life changing stuff. I love witnessing people unfurl themselves and their ideas in front of me. It’s why I’m still a speaking coach after 20 years.

Tell To Win: Connect, Persuade & Triumph With The Hidden Power Of Story, by Peter Guber

Tell To Win is a delightful book filled with incredibly useful tips, reframes and stories for tapping into the power of purposeful story telling. I’ve now asterisked, underlined and happily dog-eared my own copy.

3 Gems From Tell To Win:

p.57: “Stories make facts and figures memorable, resonant and actionable. …ignite empathy in the room and face to face and your audience won’t just hear you, they’ll feel you.“ (Geez I love that bit!!)

p.174-5: “…mirror neurons in the brain only switch on when the sense another person is acting intentionally …humans begin reading each other’s intentions as soon as they are physically close enough to see, hear and smell each another. Intention can speak louder than words.“

p.197: Human communication is mostly non-verbal. Half is visual and one third is vocal tone. We talk through our senses, rather than our words.

The author, Peter Guber works in the movie, entertainment and sports industries often as CEO. He is well connected and fills his book with stories, case studies and examples of famous people, firms and films.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

Quiet is an easy to read book, tirelessly researched with bountiful evidence and compassionately balanced to benefit all the shapes and sizes of humanity. Read and find yourself within its pages.

Well, this book is an eyeopener, especially for those labelled as shy, anxious, socially awkward, quiet, sensitive, antisocial and hopeless at public speaking!

These characteristics often get lumped together without much thought and with a lot of presumption.

The western world, cheerleaded by corporate North America, relentlessly promotes extroversion personality traits as the norm and the ideal. Natural extroverts are only half the population. Where is the voice of the other half?

The trick is identifying your inherent tendencies and preferences and to use them to your advantage, ignoring any labels.

Get the book or watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk.

The Confident Performer, By Dr David Roland

The author, David Roland, is a Australian performance psychologist. This book specifically teaches mental preparation techniques for any kind of performance including dance, song, theatre, music and sport. The number one biggie for most people, stage fright, he covers particularly well. He includes two excellent scripts to build a habit of relaxation before performance (and life), both autogenic and progressive muscle relaxation.

I like these words from David Roland on page 80: “The very nature of performance requires the artist to expose himself publicly, which usually leads to the experience of stage fright – something every artist needs to manage. Being open to evaluation by an audience is something that does not occur in most other occupations.”

And yet, without taking the risk of exposing one’s true self, there is only facade, a barrier between you and your audience. And they feel it. Listeners miss out on the real you, you miss out on them and everyone misses out on the magic.

You can lessen the risk of stage fright by tapping into the power of mental rehearsal.

(David Roland has since recovered from stroke trauma and more about his brain-training work can be found on his website: )

Scared Speechless: 9 Ways to Overcome Fears & Captivate Your Audience, by Rohr & Impellizzeri

Scared Speechless offers logical, down to earth and humorous explanations to help you figure out why in the past you were scared of speaking and how to change it for the future using simple neuropsychology.

I picked up some useful gems from Scared Speechless, which I’ve already put to use in my workshops. I’ll only give you three so you’ll have to read the book to get the rest:

Practise your speech non-verbally (yes, mime!) with your body to express your meaning first. Then practise with words. Your body will remember your meaning and underscore your words with natural gestures.

Prepare your speech to be READ rather than SAID. In other words, write it out loud. (Ever noticed the difference when you’ve heard someone READING a speech as opposed to talking directly to you? Which is the more powerful?)

Use “clothing cognition” to your advantage, that is, dress to support your message. Wearing high-heels or bare feet will impact how you deliver and the impressions you create.

Scared Speechless is a good read for nervous speakers on a quest to change their relationship to fear for once and for all.

Speaking Out: A 21 Century Handbook for Women And Girls, by Tara Moss

The Australian author of Speaking Out, Tara Moss, frequently speaks and writes on the rights of women and children. As anyone who dares to lift their head above the parapet, she’s been targeted by trolls and public nastiness.

Tara provides detailed information on navigating social media, countering criticism, saying “no”, handling hecklers and difficult topics (especially personal issues you don’t wish discussed), telling your story safely and putting self care first to avoid burn out and ensure your voice continues to be heard.

Speaking Out is a practical how-to handbook filling a unique gap in the market on finding and using your authentic voice for the good of all humanity. Whether they like it or not!

Body Language: Learn How To Read Others And Communicate With Confidence, by Elizabeth Kuhnke

“The purpose of this book is to help you recognize the power of body language and turn you into a top-notch communicator.” (p. 8). Elizabeth Kuhnke efficiently articulates how to inspire and relate to others based on your ability to read body language.

These are essential skills for coaches, therapists, trainers, managers, leaders and people who work with people. Almost everyone needs to build empathy, trust and rapport and persuade, negotiate and lead. Useful Gems:

To feel at ease and increase rapport while networking, act as if you are the host of your own party (open smiles, body and gestures, survey the room like you own it.)

Don’t jump to conclusions based on one gesture or tone; interpret body language in clusters and context.

If the other person’s body is still and gestures are few, match their containment. You’ll have difficulty establishing rapport if you are bouncing off the walls.

Before interviews and leading groups: find a private mirror, smile, lift your head high, widen your stance and stretch your arms up and out. Think, Superwoman. Ideally hold this pose for two minutes to activate testosterone flow. Then shake out arms and legs and give yourself a big, genuine smile.

To raise your energy, openess and engagement, smile and lift the muscles at the corner of the eyes as well as the mouth to create a genuine welcoming expression. Bright eyes denote interest, soft eyes denote care. Aim for 65%-85% eye contact. Any more is just weird.

And to leave you with an interesting quote from George Bernard Shaw (p.193), “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Body Language by Elizabeth Kuhnke is a book I’ll dip into often to help my clients become cool, calm and connected communicators.

This Is A Voice: 99 Exercises To Train, Project & Harness The Power Of Your Voice, By Jeremy Fisher & Gillyanne Kayes

A great book filled with simple techniques for professional speakers, singers, actors and voice professionals. It offers useful exercises for anyone who wants greater control over their voice to become a more confident, persuasive and vocally powerful speaker.

I immediately dipped into This Is A Voice to share exercises with my clients. In particular:

Voice projection for over loud and over soft speakers. Vocal variation adds dimension, depth and variety and ensures listeners can hear and understand you.

The annoying Australian habit of rising inflection… “This is a lovely cup of coffee?” where every sentence sounds like a question. It causes listeners to assume the speaker doesn’t know what they are talking about and are seeking reassurance.

Body balancing exercise to re-centre yourself before and after speaking. Take a moment to consider how much you have magically learnt about a speaker just through listening to their voice. We learn so much through tone, emphasis and word choice. It makes sense to ground and retune yourself before speaking, to ensure you deliver what you intend to say on so many levels.

9 Great Public Speaking Books

These are the 9 great public speaking books I recommend to my clients on a regular basis. I refer to them often. All contain useful exercises, inspiring stories and a compassion for humanity to transform a fear into a joy.

(c) 2020 Geraldine Barkworth. These reviews & this article is the opinion solely of the author.

Press Pause & Slow the Hell Down

Entrain with Your Own Rhythm

The world spins ever faster and before the pandemic, we rushed to keep up. Somehow “speed” got included in life’s aspirational trio – “bigger, stronger, faster.”

Over the years I tried to keep up, really I did. To swim with the big boys. To be an impressive, efficient, sleek machine. But my little fins are not built for speed. I think I’m more of a meanderer. I like the scenic route and I like to ponder. One needs time, for a good pondering. And the only way to do that is to press Pause & slow the hell down.

(Click Here to listen to me briefly talk (1.35mins) about slowing down, as a great way to handle speaking nerves, as part of an interview series with the delightful Doreen Downing. To listen to the whole interview and 19 other anxiety speaking experts, Click Here.)

To continue, when everything barrels toward you so fast, it’s overwhelming. You end up reacting, rather than responding. Sometimes, this means you find yourself corralled into a direction you didn’t choose or want. But somehow, it happened and you just got swept along… Your Honour. This is a kind of entrainment, losing yourself in the rhythm of someone else’s urgency.

I discovered something wonderful and simple some years ago. It doesn’t require years of university study, half a million dollars or a life time of sitting on your bottom in a drafty cave. It is the antidote to an overwhelming life.

So, what is it?

Press Pause & slow the hell down.

Please excuse my fruity language. But while I’ve passed the point of exasperation, I always have time for exaggeration. A bit of drama keeps things playful and interesting.

The Virtues of Slow

We’ve all heard the wonders of slow food and slow travel and for years I’ve wondered, how do I market, “Slow Talk”. Or, “Slow Speech.” Or, “Slow Communicators”. I take it you see the problem? The phrasing is neither attractive nor evocative. In fact, it’s rather off-putting.

“Darling, what do you want to be when you grow up?” 

“A slow talker, mummy!”

“Slow Talk” doesn’t promise the delights of lingering eye contact, meaningful gestures, powerful, heartfelt words. It doesn’t suggest the tapping into presence or the results of provocative pondering. It just sounds, well, kind of… slow. 

And have you heard how fast people speak these days? Unless you are from Texas, I only catch about half what people under thirty are saying.

For years I’ve yearned to teach wait staff and air plane attendants to speak so that you can actually understand them. Is that not the point of speaking? To communicate an important idea or share information? Truly, how does “seatbelt… lunch… evacuation …desert”make any useful sense to anyone, especially in an emergency? Well, I guess if you throw Imodiumin there, it could become quite meaningful.

It seems to me, that we currently inhabit of world of quantity. How much you have, is more important than who you are. But when you pump out the words faster, they lose all definition and all meaning. And what do people do, when overwhelmed or unable able to understand information? They put on a blank smiley face and think about, lunch.

In a nutshell, pausing and slowing down is about quality of human interaction. Quality, not quantity. 

The act of showing up, actually being there in mind, body and spirit is an endangered species. We love to visit it in the zoo, gosh isn’t it a cute idea?But why not take it home and try it out next time you are in conversation, doing the Zoom or speaking to a bunch of people?

How To Slow Down & Not Feel Weird

If you are a naturally fast speaker (as many of us are), then be mindful of your pace and ensure your words do not tumble insensibly from your lips onto deaf ears. Feel free to be yourself. Just remember to throw in some pauses between sentences and have a little rest between ideas. Look into people’s faces to find out if you need to adjust your pace or egad, you could ask them directly.

“Is this clear? Am I speaking too fast? Should I repeat, that last bit?”

A good way to practice finding the most effective pace for you, is to read out loud. If you are unsure of where to pause, stop or flourish dramatically, simply follow the structure of the written version.

As a guide, pause a little where there are commas or when you wish to emphasise a word.

Take a longer break when you come to a full stop or wish to highlight the idea in the sentence.

Lastly, thoroughly enjoy a rest between paragraphs, ideas and introducing a whole new direction.

I say this often, but it really is important. Speaking out loud is for the benefit of others. Help listeners to understand you by giving them ample time to engage, digest and respond. And don’t forget that people may think faster or slower than you, English may be their second language or they could have been up all night with a screaming baby or hot flushes. Slower words equal deeper understanding.

Dare To Find Your Own Voice

Slowing down opens the doorway for being present. It gives your listeners and you, time to consider your next ideas and words. It allows you to be flexible, change direction and respond in the moment. Daring to slow down when you speak, opens up your world to quality communication. And slowing down is absolutely brilliant for the kind of incidental speaking that occurs in meetings or Q & A.

“Hey Susie/Mikey/Vu Lynn/ can you answer some totally unscripted, tricky questions from the group?”

“Umm, sure… why the hell not?”

And off you go, speaking a little more slowly, but with oodles more thought, choice, flexibility and mastery than you ever thought possible.

Press Pause & slow the hell down peoples. Dare to find your own voice.

© 2020, Geraldine Barkworth, Australian speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

How To Handle Audience Drama Queens

“Difficult” Is In The Eye Of the Beholder

Knowing how to handle audience Drama Queens , Know It Alls and Power Players rapidly catapults your skill in sensitively working with groups and workshops. I tend to give so called “difficult” people a long rope unless the integrity or safety of the group is threatened. Handle each challenging situation from the beginning with strong boundaries and agreements. Model your expectations of the group with your own behaviour. The group will watch you closely to see how you handle difficulties. There is no neat solution and “difficult” is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t be too quick to judge; social anxiety is easily triggered by group dynamics.

Here’s how I handled 3 different situations:

1: “Drama Queen” Wants Maximum Attention!

During a workshop on “gracious self-promotion”, one participant came in late to the front of the room, asked if anyone wanted a throat lozenge and loudly knocked over her water bottle. It rolled dramatically across the floor. All eyes followed it instead of me! Mind you, her behaviour was absolutely fascinating and brilliantly self-promoting! Throughout the workshop she kept shaking her head and sighing melodramatically with numerous toilet breaks and requests for information to be repeated. Information which she then proceeded to disagree.

I decided she wasn’t genuinely distressed but had mistaken the workshop for her lounge room. In both breaks I asked her privately if she was ok. Her mysterious response was to nod without speaking, would not look me in the eye, turned her back and walked away. She appeared to want attention publicly, and then rejected it when it was offered privately. As Facilitator, I chose compassionate damage control. I did this primarily by redirecting audience attention using clear body language and an authoritive tone. I also gave her a couple of public opportunities for attention, which she mysteriously spurned. The relief in the room was politely palpable when she left us early.

2: “Know It All” Stages a Coup!

In a small group of 20 business owners who had come to learn about communicating with presence, one man had an answer to every question, even rhetorical ones! Soon I started saying: “Now this is something I want you to think about silently… to yourself…” but he still felt his thoughts were worthy of sharing. Other participants were starting to sigh, eyes began to roll and bodies shifted away from him. I didn’t shut him down immediately because his contributions were interesting and I wanted to encourage interaction. However, when one person begins dominating, the group can become confused as to who is the actual leader. It was me or him.

When he next tried to butt in and talk over me, I gently put my hand up in a soft “stop” position, said abruptly: “One moment please”, and turned my body away from him and faced the rest of the group. I then finished my words and directly engaged other participants to tip the balance of energy and power. I asked inclusive open questions like, “Mary… what are your thoughts about…?” After that, I continued to respectfully acknowledge him in the same way I did everyone else. And we both settled down with egos intact and the group stayed on track.

3: “Power Player” Tries to Dominate!

During a small group brainstorming session, one woman ignored my directions and took command of a group. She had chosen to join a group of inexperienced juniors. She loudly took centre stage, reassigned roles and changed the focus of the exercise. Five other groups worked cohesively with a flurry of conversation and the smell of texta pens in the air.  Her group however was unnaturally quiet. The participants sat far apart, their bodies drooping. All texta pens, paper and ideas were exclusively under her control.

Rather than embarrass or confront her in front of the others, I apologised for making a mistake. I explained that each group needed more diversity in age and experience. I asked 2 senior, confident participants to switch to Ms Power Player’s group, then invited 2 younger ones to leave. This totally changed the dynamic, destroyed her budding power base and restored momentum to the exercise. And I’m happy to report, everyone then got a fair go and everyone’s voice was heard.

How To Handle Audience Drama Queens

Be alert for mental health issues. Keep in mind that “difficult” people like Drama Queens, Know it Alls and Power Players are a great learning opportunity. Luckily these behaviours show up in the minority, perhaps 5% of any group or audience. I’ve found the other 95% of the group relished the workshop more because of what they learned. The interplay of power and drama and display of your interpersonal communication skills is better than TV!

 © 2013-20, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Wake Up Your Listeners!

Banish Boredom With Stories

Oh dear. It’s your turn to present. You hope it’s not going to be too boring. Treasurer’s Report. Working Party Analysis. Policy Revision Announcements. Facts. Figures. Data. Your shoulders droop in anticipation of everyone’s boredom, including your own. But wait! There is a simple way to wake up your listeners!

Turn Boring Into Compelling

Facts and figures are devoid of emotion and imagination. That’s their nature.

But people remember feelings before facts. Humans need to care, to feel a connection that is personally relevant and real to them. The simplest, most direct way to accomplish this, is to place your facts and figures within the context of a story. Stories banish boredom.

Compare These Two Presentation Starts…

  • “Welcome to our talk on Manual Handling. As you know, we deliver it every year to keep our company accreditation. We will run through the importance of a safe workplace, hazards to look out for, common accidents and the procedures to follow should an event occur. Statistically, 98% of accidents are…”


  • “I’m 10 years old, lying beneath my push bike. There’s a big truck coming my way and I’m sprawled on the highway… What I learned from that experience, was the importance of maintaining my bike. My brakes had failed and the tires were bald. I knew, but kept putting off fixing them. My dad was with me that day and he dragged me off the road in time… But dads aren’t always with us and now, it’s up to us to look after ourselves and our colleagues. Today, we’re going to work together to keep our workplace safe and accident free.”

Be Personal

When you begin your speech by sharing a personal story, it begins a relationship with your audience. Start with a short, graphic opening line. Pause to let the audience catch up and have their own experience of relating to what you said. Briefly tell the rest of the story. Tell what you’ve learned from that experience and how it relates to the purpose of your talk. Engage their interest first. Then explain how it is relevant to them.

Honesty Rings True

Keep your story honest and simple. You should be able to remember it, because it happened to you or someone you know. Declutter and hone the main point of the story. This is a case of less is more.

Remember To Pause

Taking time to pause when you speak, gives your listeners time to absorb your words. When speakers talk too quickly, listeners can’t keep up and lose interest. It’s disrespectful, inefficient and a great way to lose your audience. Pausing is a natural and normal part of conversation; it draws people in. Pausing is inclusive.

What Happens After the Story

Adults and children recognise that a story is a metaphor for a life lesson. It’s core of wisdom offers a benefit. That’s the WIFM. Once you’ve given something of value and engaged the interest of your listeners, provide backup with facts, figures and proof. When an audience cares, they will listen to your data.

No one will be bored when you spell out the relevance and consequence of how that Treasurer’s Report, Working Party Analysis, or Policy Revision Announcement, directly impacts them. Start with a story and wake up your listeners.

© 2020, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only.

Introverts and Extroverts: Who Makes A Better Speaker?

Introverts and Extroverts Have Their Own Advantages

Extroverts and introverts make outrageous assumptions that public speaking is a walk in the park for extroverts. They’ve got all that confident outgoing energy, verbal gymnastics and think fast on their feet, don’t they?

Not so. Extroverts may be more willing to jump up and talk in front of a group, but they don’t do it any better.

Humans love to label, sort and classify. Are you outgoing and confident? Are you a freedom loving Sagittarian? Which university did you attend? Giving someone a label enables us to quickly quantify who we are in relation to them. I’m guessing it relates to power and allocation of resources. And perhaps that’s a useful way to prioritise in a crisis. But day to day, labels become limiting when stereotypes morph from opinion into “truth”.

I think there is danger, not so much in labelling whether someone is an “introvert” or an “extrovert”. The danger is society insisting that one personality style is better than the other.

Introverts and Extroverts Short Quiz

Who hasn’t read a magazine in a waiting room and filled in time, by completing one of those “Are You an Introvert or Extrovert?” short quizzes? If it’s been a while and you’d like a refresher, here’s a typical example:

Do You…?

  1. Prefer open plan offices or your own private space?
  2. Enjoy team brainstorming or prefer to nut things out on your own?
  3. Like meeting new people at parties or spending time with one close companion?
  4. Gain energy being around people or do you feel more nourished by quiet reflection?
  5. Or, do you enjoy both?

Notice how these questions are “either / or”? They imply you are either at one end of the spectrum or the other. You are either an extrovert (the first half of each question) or an introvert (the second half of each question.) To summarise:

  • Extroverts gain energy externally,thriving in highstimulation environments. After a long conference day, extroverts are usually keen to kick on for drinks, dinner, parties, anything!
  • Introverts gain energy internally, thriving in lowstimulation environments. If an introvert can stand an entire day at a conference, they usually prefer quiet down time in the evening on their own or with a friend.

The Power of “Quiet”

According to Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Won’t Stop Talking”, there isn’t a spectrum, rather a cross-over of individual personality traits influenced by your environment. For instance, you can be a “shy or anxious extrovert” or an “outgoing or socially confident introvert”.

Reading“Quiet”was a revelation. I was surprised to discover I am an introvert who acts as an extrovert when needed. While I enjoy delivering workshops and running retreats (professional environment), I look forward to finishing them so I can snuggle up with a book by myself. (personal environment). If you are intrigued, read Susan Cain’s book or watch her TED Talk.

Introvert Advantages: Thoughtful, Strategic Listeners

Do you know the phrase, “It’s the quiet ones you have to look out for”? I find that’s the frequently the case with quiet, understated introverts who consistently emerge as charismatic speakers. You can hear a pin drop when they speak. Introverts surprise themselves and everyone else, at the power and impact of their carefully chosen words, delivered with natural authenticity.

Introverts, Tap into these Strengths:

  • Use your powerful listening skills to signal you hear and understand your group. The best speakers are the best listeners. Everyone deeply wants to feel heard. Use your listening and observational skills to your advantage.
  • Introverts are often deep thinkers, creative, persistent, methodical – think of artists, scientists and IT innovators. If your personal style to is to be more thoughtful, detailed and different to mainstream, use it for the occasions when it will be appreciated. Learn to not overthink moments like, “the 30 second self intro.” Be concise and thoughtful.
  • Introverts often confess to me they are scared of Q & A and cannot think and speak well on their feet. The solution is easy: slow down, repeat the question to gain thinking time. If you don’t know the answer, have a few phrases on hand such as, “Great question, thank you. I’ll have to get back to you on it.” And make sure you do.

Extrovert Advantages: Energy, Speed & Enthusiasm

Working with extroverts is often a quick and exciting process as they grab whatever I offer with both hands and apply it before I finish speaking! I find extroverts often need to learn restraint and boundaries; knowing when to step in and when to step away. Extroverts benefit from understanding that less is more and too much, is overwhelming.

Extroverts, Tap into these Strengths:

  • Slow down (at least between sentences and ideas) so that people have time to digest your ideas. With your bountiful energy, many gems will be lost in the whitewash unless you prioritise. Aim to be short and sweet.
  • Positive, upbeat energy is great for unifying and lifting the group but has short term impact. It’s best used for entrances and signifying direction and tempo changes. If you are giving a longer presentation, watch you don’t wear yourself and your listeners out by an unsustainable, fast paced monologue. Disconnected people stop listening.
  • Become a better listener and a keen observer of body language. Both will keep you on track to ensure your group are still willing to go along for the ride with you. Remember that everyone is not the same as you and people process information at faster and slower rates. Prepare your presentation to accommodate all types of people.

Why Not Bring Out Everyone’s Best?

People process information differently. Some like it fast; others prefer it slow. Some people like to drag it back to their cave to think about it for a few weeks; others pounce, digest and move on in moments. And everyone absorbs information in differently; hearing, seeing and doing. If you only cater to one style of personality preference, you’ll miss at least 50% of humanity.

I believe Western society currently favours extroversion. A few examples: Group activities, open plan offices and the job interview process, suit people who are willing to promote themselves, speak up quickly, engage in small talk and share ideas and spaces to problem solve. And just to throw a few more generalisations about introverts and extroverts  into the mix:

Extroverts thrive on social interaction and may feel bored when alone for too long. They are often seen as talkative, assertive and enthusiastic, enjoying noise and interaction. Extroverts often think, talk and jump on board new ideas quickly. Extroverts generally enjoy group activities, join clubs, like parties and want to be part of a team. They like to collaborate, create networks and actively seek out new friendships.

Introverts on the other hand, thrive on lots of solitary time to nourish and nurture ideas and creativity. They prefer low stimulation environments – private, quiet, calm and natural. Introverts are not necessarily shy, they enjoy their own company or a couple of close friends rather than loud groups. They tend to be more methodical, pay attention to details and can be slower to answer questions… because they are taking time to think about it.

Both Introverts and Extroverts Need to be Heard

Here’s a couple of ideas to bring out the best in introverts and extroverts:

  • In an office or communal space, create a mix of open plan and private nooks. Let people gravitate to where they are most comfortable and will do their best work. And to contribute in different formats, such as written or spoken.
  • When presenting to groups, especially workshops, ensure you create a mix of individual reflective exercises, small group and large group activities with emphasis on everyone having taking a turn. Invite and offer choice, don’t demand.

We need all types of people and their voices. Those who think and those who do. Those who listen and those who talk. And those who do a bit of everything in between, sometimes referred to as “ambiverts”. Don’t assume the loudest or the quietest voice is the best one – Give everyone a chance to be heard.

(c) 2016-20, Geraldine Barkworth, Australian public speaking coach. This article is the author’s opinion only.

Inner Calm No Public Speaking Alarm

6 Minutes a Day & You’re Away

The first few days of a silent meditation retreat, I want to run. I feel twitchy. How can something as simple as sitting still cause so much agitation? My mind goes into hyper drive. I need a cup of coffee. And a cupcake to go with it. Then what about that gardening idea I had? With the rocks? Mmm. I better make a couple of dozen cupcakes to fuel the landscaping empire taking shape inside me.

And once again I have successfully distracted myself from the discipline of sitting in silence and observing my busy mind.

This racing mind and internal turmoil gives the nervous system a work out. It is tiring. Sometimes we have to wade through this mucky process before we finally stop working so hard. Eventually, we get to a point of “just being”. I’ve learned the quicker you stop struggling and start to surrender to the process, the easier it is to hear your inner voice. It’s the only short cut I’ve found. Weirdly, when you give up control, you gain it back.

And that’s the story with handling jitters, anxiety and a nervousness, like public speaking fear.

Midnight Brilliance

When I stop trying to construct, analyse and plan to the nth degree, some other part of my mind kicks into the void and presents some brilliant ideas! Of course, sometimes it’s a bit like those midnight brainwaves you scribble on a notepad beside your bed in the dark. Next morning, you try to decipher something in Chinese about a cabbage or your insight is so mundane it was not worth breaking sleep for. On other revered occasions, you truly do come up with something useful and beautiful.

My 6-minute Inner Calm exercise for moderately nervous speakers, was one of those special occasions.

Inner Calm is a short relaxation practise which allows speakers to communicate with greater clarity, presence and authenticity without getting tripped up by nervous jitter.

Fear Background Facts

Many people who avoid public speaking are fearful of their physical response to fear, not the act of public speaking itself. In reaction to any kind of fear, threat, anxiety or stress, bodies may respond with:

  • A pounding heart and pulse, sweating or trembling, scattered or racing thoughts, unable to think logically,
  • nausea or a feeling of passing out, desire to sleep or, run away, racing thoughts, often negative or anxious,
  • feeling surreal, disconnected or a blank mind, anger, agitation, aggression or panic and overwhelm.

These are some of the commonly reported reactions of nervous speakers who prefer to avoid or get speaking over with as quickly as possible. They are also the same generic reactions to panic, fear, stress and anxiety and not anything to do with the act of speaking in public.

Relaxation is a Must-Have Skill

A good speaking coach or therapist can show you how to change your fear response (activated flight, fight or flee) into a relaxation response by switching on your parasympathetic nervous system.

Learning to change your mental, emotional and physical habitual responses requires practise. A good way to begin, is to learn how to restore calm to your nervous system. Once you feel calm, perspective, rational thinking and a greater sense of control return. Restoring calm is the purpose of my Inner Calm Exercise. For some nervous speakers it will be all you need, for others, you may need more assistance.

If you feel nervous or prefer to avoid speaking in public when asked, please play with this exercise below. I created it specifically for you! But first, a list of extra incentives should you need them:

What Inner Calm Will Give You

To take control of speaking nerves and restore calm and clarity, simply practise the 6-minute mindfulness exercise, “Inner Calm” every day to build a habit of inner calm. It will help you to:

  • Manage nerves when you are about to speak or present
  • Gain an accurate insight of your current stress level
  • Get “out of your head and into your body”
  • Ground and centre yourself in your purpose
  • Think and articulate clearly with a coherent flow
  • Be focused, present and connected for the “big moments” in your life.

Here’s How to Begin

Begin by reading through the Inner Calm Exercise script below. You may find it helpful to have a friend read it out loud or you could record your own voice taking you through the exercise while you learn it. Alternatively, you may like to listen to my MP3 recording of a short sample of the Inner Calm Exercise.

This exercise simply involves counting the breath evenly from “1 to 10” for 3 rounds. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably and won’t be disturbed.

The Inner Calm Exercise Script

“Close your eyes, rest your hands in your lap, put your feet on the floor and let your body sink down into the chair. Take a light, even breath from your chest. Release gently. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Take another light, even breath in and release it slowly on the out breath. Feel your body sink deeper into the chair, knowing it supports you. Know there is nothing else you need to do right now and nowhere else you need to go.

Now we begin the Inner Calm exercise by counting the breath evenly from 1 to 10… and we’ll do that 3 times…

Mindfully breathing in, 1, Mindfully breathing out, 1.

Mindfully breathing in, 2, Mindfully breathing out, 2.

Mindfully breathing in, 3, Mindfully breathing out, 3.

Mindfully breathing in, 4, Mindfully breathing out, 4.

Mindfully breathing in, 5, Mindfully breathing out, 5.

Mindfully breathing in, 6, Mindfully breathing out, 6.

Mindfully breathing in, 7, Mindfully breathing out, 7.

Mindfully breathing in, 8, Mindfully breathing out, 8.

Mindfully breathing in, 9, Mindfully breathing out, 9.

Mindfully breathing in, 10, Mindfully breathing out, 10.

And now, take a natural breath in and out, no need to count it, and acknowledge you have completed “1 round.”

Repeat counting the breath from “1 to 10”, twice more…

And To Finish

And finally to finish, I invite you to take a light, even, uncounted breath to complete the Inner Calm exercise. Next become aware of your body sitting in the chair. Feel your feet on the floor and stretch out your toes. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Notice any changes from when you began… Bring your awareness to the present moment, take a light breath in and out, open your eyes, stretch your body, and know you can carry Inner Calm inside you wherever you go. “

Inner Calm Troubleshooting

While you are doing this exercise silently in your mind, you may find your mind wanders. This is perfectly normal. Just gently bring your mind back to “1” and begin again. Don’t make a guess and start at “5” to get through the exercise faster! The more your mind wanders, the more scattered you are feeling. The more you are able to count your breaths from “1 to 10” in a complete round, the more inner calm you are feeling. Please know you cannot fail this exercise. You can only learn more about yourself, your current state of calm and how much control you have over changing it.

What Was Your Experience of the Inner Calm Exercise?

When you are still and deeply relaxed within yourself, you will hear your intuitive authentic voice. It’s the one voice you can always trust and the one that others truly want to hear whenever you speak in a public space.

Practise every day for long term results, insights and personal growth. And keep a notepad by your bed.

© 2016-20, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach.  Opinions are of the author only. You may reproduce if kept entire.

Love of Words

Get Your Vocal Groove On

I have a love of words and come from a word-lovin’ family. Jokes were pun-based, semantics quibbled and the dictionary at hand to clarify and demystify. Those who regularly read my articles will notice I can’t resist the allure of alliteration or a light rhyme. It’s not intentional, my brain, trained early, sits happily in the vocal groove of rhythm and pattern.

No One Ever Died From Too Big A Vocabulary

What about those not born into logolepsy? (“obsession with words”) My dad would studiously correct my English and say, “Geraldine, it’s… get out the way, not get out of the road!” I still think of this as petty pedantry, ludicrous logomarchy (“argument over words”). I would find refuge in persiflage, (“light banter”), happily batting the verbal ball back and forth until all was smooth once again.

So often language reflects our personal and cultural beliefs and the geography we just happen to be born into. Is there really right and wrong with words? Besides my dad, who makes up these rules anyway? Language changes like fashion and political correctness with every nano generation.

Dyslexia & Somatic Public Speaking

My husband has mild dyslexia, (“difficulty with spelling and reading words”). His brain is wired differently and he’s brilliant at thinking creatively left of field. In order to spell a word correctly, he needs to remember how it exactly looks to write it. My rabbiting on about how ancient grammatical rules and linguistic sounds provide spelling clues, mean absolutely nothing to him.

Consequently, I now pay more attention to clients with dyslexia and other perceptual and cognitive differences and use a more creative, less written word focus to public speaking. It makes me realise how written word oriented, in fact, prejudiced we are in western society. The written word is regarded as a cornerstone of education, but whose education?

I’ve switched to working more somatically, using the whole body to communicate message and self-expression through tone, gesture, props, purpose and activating the senses.  It’s much more visceral, cutting through the blah, blah, blah. Our brain processes movement and tone before it gets around to interpreting language. There is a time lag.

Why wouldn’t you tap into communicating every way you can and use the written word as practical backup and reinforcement? As a lover of words, I am not diminishing their beauty, merely pointing out that communication is so much more than words and the written aspect, is just one form. Many of my clients worry that their inability to write at Pulitzer Prize level means they will fail when speaking in public. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just Make It Up!

I reckon lethologica, “when you can’t think of the word for something” primarily shows up when:

  1. You are having a menopausal moment;
  2. Your brain is over processing or you’ve wound down to catatonic;
  3. You are part of the trend to just make something up, to stray from the truth, embroider, embellish or even lie to cover up that which you just don’t know or care about. To make real, fake.

And To Make Fake, Real

The belief that it’s ok to just make something up and get away with it on a grandiose scale relates to one of my favourite words: mephobobia, (“the fear of becoming so awesome the human race just can’t handle it and everyone dies.”) Imagine the audacity to fuel that much power and influence.

My other favourite crazy word is shoedipity, (“The act of wearing incredibly uncomfortable shoes because they look fabulous.”) Love a bit of silliness and yet truth is reflected here. Who hasn’t worn something just because they thought they looked great… until they saw a photo 10 years later?  With both mephobobia and shoedipity I think of the fall of the Roman Empire, luxuriously imploding from self-indulgence. A case of Maximus Supercillius perhaps?

By the way, fusing parts of words together is called blending or portmanteau. Examples include hangry (“hungry and angry”) and spoodle (“spaniel and poodle”). Compounding, (“the combining of two entire words”) include the self-explanatory “website” and “housemate.”

“No, We’ve Never Met Before…”

Oops! I say this often at introductions as I remember voices before faces. Squinting at someone across the street or over a handshake, my memory revives once I hear their dulcet tones. Naturally, I tartle often, (“to hesitate while introducing someone, because you have forgotten their name”).

Of course this misadventure may lead to joyous snarfling, (“laughing so hard you snort, then laugh because you snorted, then snort because you laughed!”) My husband says I am a snarfler. Luckily it is a delightfully infectious state. Or at least to other snarflers. Maybe someone should set up a Snarfling Appreciation Society? And perhaps a sub-group for those who simultaneously lose bladder control?

Fear of Long Words

I nominate snarfling as a cure for people suffering from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia or, (“fear of long words”). I confess I cut and pasted this word rather than type it out and suffer a misspell. I wonder if it also manifests in the dumbing down of language and ideas, simplifying everything to the lowest common denominator. “Jack jumps over a log”, “I am the best in the world!”, “You are so stupid I will make this easy for you.” Twitter twitter tweet tweet.

Flavours For The Ears!

I work over the phone and skype often without being able to see my client and read their facial micro expressions. I just hear their voice. Some of the most powerful sessions I’ve experienced come because there is no visual distraction. Just listening to the voice allows me to focus oh so clearly on my client’s tone, word choice, language pattern, the space between words, speed and pace, what is said and what is unsaid. So much feeling is conveyed through tone alone. It’s like flavours for the ears!

Mirror To Our Souls

How could you not feel a love of words when they reflect so much of ourselves? Words are like a mirror to our souls, not always pretty, but honest. I think we have far too much shoedipity and mephobobia going on. And not enough snarfling or greng-jai, a beautiful Thai word for which we have no equivalent in English. It means, “being aware of other people’s feelings with the reluctance to impose upon them.”

Stay tune for a later article extolling the beauty of my favourite non-English words and their delightful meanings. Words have the power to leap across time, culture and emotion to break us and to bring us together.

©2020 Geraldine Barkworth, Australian Public Speaking Coach. The views in this article are the authors’ own. You may reproduce my article if kept in its entirety.

The Perfection Trap

How To Find Beauty In Your Flaws

I was watching day time TV. The world champions of ice skating whizzed around the rink. The magical whirls, the fantastical costumes and above all, the search for the perfect “10”.

Like most competitive sports, only First Place is venerated. Crushing disappointment for everyone else. I saw it in their crumbled faces, dejected shoulders and the commiserative knee squeeze from the coach. Only Second Place!

Why Oh Why?

At the end of the icy flurry, what I wanted to know was: why do we worship perfection? Why is the pursuit of being Number One still so important to us?

And, what would happen if we celebrated the quest, the journey and the process instead? Or the thoughtful gathering of all the small steps and how they come together to form a new story?

Perfect Public Speaker

I am a public speaking coach. Which means I help my clients individually learn how to manage speaking nerves. And I show them how to step up to the front and reveal themselves in a public space with well-crafted words and genuine presence. For some, that could involve giving a speech at a conference, or speaking up and standing their ground in a room full of challengers, or promoting their new book at a business breakfast.

Every person who works with me has a unique problem. We rework their issues into an inspiring Quest. And that Quest takes the bold yet fearful client on the classic Hero’s Journey. They are required to step up and face the inevitable challenges, fighting their internal and external dragons. Just like a good story, they face their fears, test their courage and try something new and scary. Our Hero learns an extraordinary amount about themselves. In the end, my clients do win something but it’s not always what they expect. It’s very exciting… but then, it’s over and they’re on to the next thing. Because now, they can.

Now is a good time to define our topic of the perfection trap, so we will begin with, what it is not.

Definition of Imperfection

“The state of being faulty or incomplete”. Gee, no wonder the fear of being less than perfect sends so many people into years of therapy! Now let’s investigate definitions of “Perfection”.

Definition of Perfection

  • “The action or process of improving something until it is faultless or complete.” Think of those tireless champion ice skaters, desperate for a hot chocolate but focussed on one more Triple Fling.
  • “The condition, state, or quality of being as free as possible from all flaws or defects.”  Think of the predictable sameness of machine mass production.
  • And a non-standard definition, rather Buddhist, is that Perfection is impossible because nothing is ever complete or finished; it’s always in a state of constant change.

According to the last and my favourite definition, Perfection is a temporary state. Why then do we strive for something so ephemeral? I think perfection is boring and an illusionary trap. Without change or growth, stagnation occurs. Give me imperfection any day. At least there is room to move and opportunity to be yourself.

While western society is currently obsessed with winning, being the best, the fastest, the biggest, the greatest, etcetera, other cultures have a different relationship with Perfection. I’d like to talk to you next about a couple of ancient ideas from Japan and the Middle East.

Japanese Art of Kintsugi (kint-sugee)

The Perfection Trap How to find beauty in our flaws

Do you know what this Japanese ceramic pot is an example of?

It was a beloved family pot and it had an accident. Rather than toss it away, they repaired it using the Japanese art of kintsugi, using gold to fill in the cracks and hold it together. Now, the family’s favourite pot wears its history with pride. It has a valued story and place.

Kintsugi is an example of the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, “seeing beauty in the imperfection”. I share this perspective with clients who struggle with the perfection trap. Perhaps I should just invest in a can of gold spray paint.

The Persian Flaw

The Perfection Trap How to find beauty in your flaws

Traditional Persian rugs are intricately handwoven by families who’ve kept the skill alive over generations. With all that practise you would assume they’d be close to perfect. However, the faith of Islam believes that only God is perfect which means carpet makers intentionally place subtle mistakes in their rugs.

Are you rushing off to check the status of your own rug? Never fear, deliberate flaws are difficult to spot and are often placed in the pattern. Interestingly, mistakes add value to a rug. Imperfections prove it is authentically handmade and truly unique.

Weird Robot Face

The Perfection Trap: how to find beauty in our flaws

Everyone feels uncomfortable when confronted with the perfectly mirrored face of a robot or manikin. Our skin crawls because deep down we know no human face has perfect symmetry. One eye may be higher than the other or the teeth slightly crooked.

Humans are hardwired to prefer imperfection in faces; to be flawed. Facial imperfection feels more natural, trustworthy and authentic.

I ponder once again, why on one hand do we obsess with being flawlessly number one and yet yearn for and instinctively trust “authenticity” and “uniqueness” in all things, not just faces? Why is vulnerable and battle scarred more attractive than neat and perfect? Time to check the definition of Authenticity:

Definition of Authenticity

Authenticity is the quality of being genuine and real. Authenticity creates trust. Foundations are built upon it. I’m now briefly going to tell you the story of one of my clients who battled the perfection trap. Simon feared losing credibility and being judged as less than the perfect professional.

Client Story – Simon* Who Broke His Foot

Simon’s topic was sensitive and controversial. He needed to raise awareness in the right way to the right people. He came to see me a couple of months in advance of a conference speaking opportunity. Simon’s main issue was how to embody credibility, awaken compassion and educate status-sensitive senior health professionals.

Two weeks before the big day, Simon broke his foot badly. He assumed his credibility would be lost, limping on stage with a stick, unable to hold his own props and looking less than powerful. He was ready to cancel. I talked him out of it.

This Is How Simon Did It

A stool and table were placed centre stage. Props were hidden in a mysterious big box. Simon walked with dignity and a stick slowly and without apology. He was vulnerable and strong. The audience sucked in their breath and put down their phones. Their interest was palpable. To maximise his physical comfort and magnify his presence, Simon took off his lone shoe, spread his knees wide, leaned forward, lifted his face and opened his palms. This is the SOLER** active listening stance, a universally non-threatening physical posture that engenders trust, openness and an invitation to share.

Before long, Simon’s audience gasped, laughed and cried. They listened beyond his words and I guess you could say, crossed the “blood-brain barrier” to absorb a radical topic and approach. Through necessity, Simon had to adopt a non-standard delivery which ended up beautifully suiting his non-standard topic. His relaxed “we are all in this together” manner brought down formal barriers, allowing something new and different to slip through.

Simon took his standing ovation, sitting down! And he began conversations with policy makers who had power to make change. During a later debrief, Simon realised that “being real was far more effective than trying to be a perfect fit for someone else’s expectations.”  Simon had struggled with the perfection trap his whole life.

Embrace Flaws To Avoid The Perfection Trap

I consulted a psychologist in my twenties. I lived in Sydney and did a lot of contract work. Always moving, never settling. The psychologist kept pieces of broken, pretty glass on the window sill. After some months, I asked why she hadn’t thrown it out. She told me she used it as a visceral reminder that just because something is broken, doesn’t mean it’s no longer beautiful or valuable. In some ways when things break, they show their authentic parts, the myriad of pieces or small steps that make up the whole.

I like to keep this philosophy in mind when I work with my clients. We all strive for authenticity because it’s better than the perfection trap, it’s real. And realness is something we trust and build our lives upon, flaws, diversity and all.

Let’s all invest in bottles of gold paint!

*Naturally I have changed some details and client names to protect privacy. ** S.O.L.E.R. active listening model developed by Gerard Egan.

© 2019 Geraldine Barkworth, Australian Speaking Coach. This article is the opinion of the writer.

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