Almost thirty years ago, when my friend Alan and I left the world of theater and came into the business world doing our ‘presentation skills program on rocket fuel’ (as one client called it), we were, essentially, training participants how to implement our tips and techniques.
“Stand like this and you’ll look impressive.”
“Move your arms with these gestures and you’ll appear purposeful.”
Because our clients loved these easy fixes – and assumed them to be long-lasting – it took me a while to work out that there was a deep flaw in this approach.
The reality is that all communication is inside out, and not – as we were teaching people – outside in.
Any visible and external output of communication is born from the thinking and feeling that gives birth to the desire to communicate.
The confident, even charismatic, speaker at a conference is not showing up as confident and charismatic because they are standing in a certain way and using a flexibility of tonal color – these are just labels that we, as audiences, use to describe our experience. Rather, they are standing in a certain way and using a flexibility of tonal color because it couldn’t be any other way for them. Those external manifestations come from a thought. Maybe that thought is ‘I love sharing this message,’ or maybe that thought is ‘There is nothing stopping me being fully here.’ That’s not for us to know (unless we ask them). But it is undeniable that it is the thought that gives rise to the action of communication.
That meeting you went to last week – you know, the one where the presenter showed up with 48 slides and insisted – against the call of reason – to try and get through them all in the 30 minutes he’d been allotted? That person is doing that from the thought that ‘Content is king!’ or, on a more personal level, ‘If I share enough information then, eventually, I’m bound to say something smart.’
That time you are anticipating with dread – because you know you need to have a clear conversation with your teenage child – because you’re concerned about something they seem to have got caught up in? That dread is a thought. And so you show up, at that time, full of dread, and that dread manifests as stumbling and mumbling and beating about the bush, when at the same time, you can hear your best self saying ‘Just speak the raw truth that is in your heart!’ But you don’t speak that truth because you fear that neither of you will be able to handle what comes after that. All of that is a thought. The communication – or the lack of it -is not a skill being practiced well or otherwise, but the result of a way of thinking.
If you want to have a different conversation with your child, or improve your business presentations, or if you want to change the world, then you will always need to start with your own thinking. There is no skill you can learn that is more powerful than the thought you are believing inside. That’s why when Alan and I got our participants to ‘Stand tall and speak firmly,’ the result was only temporary because we hadn’t changed their internal thought – which was that they’d much prefer not to be standing there at all.
And as we’ll explore later in this book, the inside-out approach is not always an easy path to take, because we often find out that (a) our thinking is not always on our side and, (b) we nevertheless seem reluctant to change it.