Private Answer

I don’t pay for group workshops and seminars.   That’s a traitorous, semi-suicidal confession.  It’s like a chef saying “I don’t eat here.”

I’m a trainer, a lover of trainers, a booster for the training field.  Training, yay!

But no, I don’t pay for those group things.

When I pay for training, it’s one-on-one with a solid, local teacher. 

It’s not a 4-hour presentation at the airport Red Lion conference room with 150 other lucky registrants.  It’s certainly not the 3-day follow-up course at a Colorado retreat center where I’m promised to get a full 30 minutes alone with the facilitator.  It’s for sure not the 5 week intensive where I’ll earn a teaching certificate in that guru’s trademarked brand of revolutionary whatever-the-hell-he’s-selling.

Am I jaded and snarky?   Don’t I know that some of these large-group presenters are award winners, the real deal, amazing storytellers, inspiring motivational speakers?   Don’t I know that some of them have changed lives, been on Oprah, and founded multi-million dollar empires?

Yeah, I know.  I’ve met a few of them.  (Remind me to tell you an embarrassing backstage story about Les Brown*.)

There are indeed some completely fabulous keynoters and excellent performance coaches.   Absolutely worth watching.

For Free.

But when I spend money to improve MY skills, no group training is as effective as a solid, local, one-on-one teacher. 

Why?

For the same reason Jon Hamm goes to a tailor for his suits:  specificity. You are not an average.

Also, for skills development, timing matters.  Your kid’s pre-school teacher knows that one, but somehow as adults we forget.  You can be given great info but if it’s not attuned to where you are in your progress, it’s wasted.  A good teacher sees your unique profile and progress, rather than plastering you with their patented fix-for-everything product.

So why are there so many personal development coaches offering giant group sessions at the Red Lions of the world?

Girl, we’re just trying to make a living.

We don’t sell group training because it’s more effective than one-on-one training.  We sell it because it’s a better economic model for us. It earns us more money, in less time.  I might make $500 for a 3 hour workshop, plus maybe merch sales and freebie brand PR, but I’d only make $200 for the two private coaching students during the same time.  (For bigger name folks, inflate those numbers to $1500 vs. $500, or $10k vs $1k).

And for the workshop, I just repeat something I’ve done lots of times, my signature bullshit that gets applause. Whereas for the private students, I have to actually pay attention, tailor the work to the student’s real goals and skills, and then care about their actual growth beyond just this session.  What a colossal pain in my ass.  Especially when you compare it to being fawned over by a large group of people at a swank hotel.  Ooh, that’s a high, totally.   

No doubt, a group training is nice for the trainer.  And the meeting planner who snags a slam-dunk speaker for the company meeting is a freaking hero.   But when I’m the one looking for education, I want measurable impact on ME, and that means one-on-one with a master.  (also, I have to say my students are all delightful, and not ass-pains at all, but maybe they’re special…)

If you need to make change or build skills, take one-on-one instruction, not just group sessions. 

Be warned:   the one-on-one won’t give you that excitement of being among 700 like-minded people (our team is the biggest team!).  It won’t give you the feeling of being associated with a national-status leader (our teacher is the most popular teacher!).  It won’t give you the safety of potential  back-row anonymity within that large group, nor the promise of a set path of rank advancement up a pyramid as you become more and more invested in that brand-tribe.

Instead, it’ll work.  As actual education.

So is going to those big group things just stupid?  Nah, not any stupider than going to Disneyland, or a pep rally, or a shopping mall, or a fast food joint.   If you go with full knowledge of what you’re doing, then so what if it’s a little cheesy and impersonal?  Maybe it’s fun.

But if your point is personal development, well, then yeah.   You don’t get that at the drive-thru.

 

 

*The story I promised:   Okay, so I’m on a conference music team in Vancouver and everyone is buzzing about the upcoming keynoter that day, Les Brown, who’s supposed to be amazing, and almost all of the rest of the production team is making sure they get out front to see the guy’s talk, right?  

I’ve never heard of him.  But I’m not letting on, cuz I’m being told he’s a multi-millionaire, has several talk shows, books, has won multiple public speaking awards, Emmies, and generally gets 40k per gig.  

Cool, maybe I’ll get to meet him, though first we’ve got our little music set to do. 

I’m prepping, uncomfortable in the backstage darkness, not thrilled about having to wear Spanks for 13 hours a day for the past 3 days of this conference, but it’s a good gig.  I’m lucky.  The spanks really are riding twisted, though, so I slip into an extra dark corner to rearrange the whole affair under my skirt until the camel-toe madness stops assaulting my tender ladybits.  It takes some time and effort, because Spanks fight back, but I manage not to attract attention. 

I turn around in time to see Mr. Amazing Les Brown and a giddy entourage rounding my corner like a backstage royal parade, Les smiling, very charming, clearly at ease, alpha, flirting, cajoling.  He’s greeting some of the conference leaders and backstage crew.  I smile my best bland Bond-girl smile, and he stops to ask my name. I tell him and reach to shake his hand, exactly as I realize I’ve had my hand straight down my crotch for god-knows-how-long-and-oh Jesus – he’s decided to kiss my hand.  He’s kissing that hand.

His smile doesn’t change.  My smile doesn’t change.  Words are said (probably? I have no recollection) and he eventually moves past.  I melt back into the corner and take a hesitant diagnostic sniff of my hand.

 

I can only imagine he is a very straight man, with no small amount of worldly experience.  

Puppies!

First, go watch this video from Stanford Graduate School of Business, called Make Body Language Your Super Power.

Did you go watch it?  Because I really want you to have your own opinions and not just see what I’ve primed you to see.

Okay, what did you notice?

My professional opinion is:   oh my god they are so freaking adorable, they’re like puppies and I want to eat them up.

Where to start…  okay, so there’s an immediate laugh as we hear about gesture as an effective presentation tool, demonstrated using the most unnatural and awkward looking gestures I’ve seen in, maybe, oh, ever.   By minute 4, I already love these people for life. 

Why do I love them, when they all suck so very, very badly at body language?  Like, if Siri and C3P0 tried having phone sex, that level of bad?

Because of what they actually ARE saying with their bodies.

They’re saying, “We studied so hard.  We’re good students, who trust our professors and enjoy our classmates. We’re pushing ourselves beyond our limits, and trying like fun to learn this strange, exotic language called Business Gesture.”

And they DID study hard; this is their final project for a Strategic Communication Course at a highly respected institution, from super high-end teachers including Nancy Duarte and JD Schramm.

The give, the show, the chop, palms down, no pointing, congruency, creativity, power position, audience as hero – this unit gave them some of the most popular contemporary public speaking advice available, and by God they’re learning it.

And we in the audience are learning that these techniques are completely artificial.

Maybe we’ll get used to this particular lexicon of “Business Gesture”, like we got used to politicians doing the knuckle-point.  Like we got used to the inhuman vocal cadences of newscasters of the 1980’s, or the Life Magazine styles of the Jackie O media set, or baseball’s wonderfully bizarre radio announcers of the 40’s, or the fake-English Received Pronunciation accents and steamy over-the-shoulder glances of Golden Age Hollywood.

Maybe the chop, the give and the show are like the selfie ducklips of contemporary business meetings.

If so, dump them now.

Here’s how they were created:  someone watched people who were passionate and persuasive, and tried to analyze what they saw.  Ducklips aren’t sexy; ducklips are people “doing” sexy.   Knuckle pointing isn’t authoritative; it’s people “doing” authoritative.   It’s what actors call an outside-in attempt, and it comes off looking like either a little kid wearing mommy’s boots or an alien trying to pass for hyoo-mawn. (“We’re from France.”)

For direct address presentation, we want to know what you ACTUALLY look like when you’re passionate, and you know what you’re doing, and you’re committed to sharing an idea.

What does Matt really look like when he’s shocked about a video?  How does Colin really move when he wants everyone in the room to hear him?   What does Jeong Joon do when he’s explaining something crucial?   And what does Jennifer look like when she’s really interacting with her audience?

Happily, we do get a tiny taste of that last one, and it’s delightful.   At 12:14, Jennifer actually does what she’s telling us to do:  she interacts with the audience.  And in the moment of her true listening and being surprised by the answer (amethyst? WTF??), she suddenly pops into being real.

It’s like night and day.

We only see that kind of present moment truth in one other place, back at 2:20 when Matt screws up, and for just a moment, his gesture becomes real: spontaneous, appropriate, balanced, grounded, fully extended, coordinated, and targeted.

Sometimes we humans get it right by getting it wrong.

So did I learn to make body language my superpower, like the video title says?  No, but I did learn:

  • Audience interaction absolutely works, even if you’re kind of a novice.
  • A fumble can actually improve your game.

and

  • These grad students are flipping awesome and should be hired immediately.

Gawd bless ‘em.  And may no one ever unearth any video from my own graduate school days.

Where Do I Put My Hands?

“Where do I put my hands” ranks with “How should I stand?” as the most F of the novice FAQ’s.

Here are the answers:

Q:   “Where do I put my hands?”    A:  In your Content.

Q:  “How should I stand?”   A:   So I can see you.

I’d love to just mic drop right here, but these questions are so F they deserve a full treatment.

 

Imagine your nervous body is a pioneer fort under siege.  Siege commences.

Some people are scattering in panic — that’s like your hands fidgeting, and body pacing.  Some are hiding (like sunken chest, backpedaling, hands in pockets).   Some run to protect the back gate (hands clasping behind back) or cover the weak points (hands covering crotch, elbows tight against ribs).  In this chaos, it feels like a blessing to get any instruction at all from an external authority at high command: “You there, form ranks, present arms, and hold THIS position!”  (stiff poses and canned gestures)

“Oh, and act casual.  YOUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT.”

 

And that’s probably the third most F of the FAQ’s:  “How do I hide the fact that I – ”

Stop right there.

“But how can I come across as – ”    Stop.

“But I want to seem more – ”    No.     Nup.    Bup.

Our bodies naturally want to tell the truth.  We can spend years learning tips and tricks to cover over an icky truth, spotting anywhere the truth pops out, and stomping on it.  Don’t clasp hands, don’t put them in your pockets or behind your back, don’t point, don’t saw, don’t pump, don’t drum, don’t hairtwist, don’t touch your nose or ears.  don’t dont dont. Plenty of people communicate brilliantly while breaking these rules, but teachers still create these giant no-no lists.  This one even called the issue of hand gesture a “minefield”.

Jesus Christ, who wants to play in a minefield?  No wonder we’re nervous.

Wouldn’t you rather play in a field where there was buried gold all over the place?     So, let’s make one.   And then we’ll invite the audience to play in it with us.

The Gold

What’s the treasure you’re trying to share with your audience?  It’s not something like “that I’m a great performer” or “that I’m worthy of admission to this fine drama school”. That way lies empty chests.  No, the gold is going to be something specific to your content and that audience.

Maybe you’re singing Ave Maria, and the gold is a sense of comfort, or joy, or release, or remembrance, or reverence for motherhood.  Maybe you’re giving a sermon, and the gold is a renewed commitment to a specific spiritual practice, or a social justice cause.  Maybe you’re auditioning with Portia’s Quality of Mercy speech and the gold is the always-relevant reminder to Shylock that forgiveness is his highest possible choice.  Maybe you’re giving a TED talk and the gold is an innovation in symbiotic fungi production that holds hope for food security in the 21st century.

You’ve got gold here, buddy.  I don’t care if you’re nervous, share the damn gold.

Yes, absolutely there are some behaviors that are so distracting they will disrupt your ability to share.  But you’ll do better focusing on positives.  Don’t think of a giraffe in high heels.   See?  Your brain skipped right over the “don’t”, and now it’s deciding whether they’re spikes or wedges.

So instead look at the vast range of gestural possibility, and seek to enlarge it.  Gestures are tools to help us reveal the gold, and we can always be shopping for cool tools.

Consider the Laban movement lexicon, intro here by a squad of adorables from U of Colorado.  Or test your global gestural understanding with this excellent Japanese teacher.  And this bit o’ awesome is snatched from a class on Chimpanzee body language, though it also inspires questions about the primacy of gesture over verbal language.

These things won’t give you the satisfaction that a list of do’s and don’ts will give you.  But they do help you find your own personally authentic ways of sharing treasure, without turning into a singer-bot or robo-speaker.   See the Puppies post for more on that.

 

Must Have Gig

Most teachers have some prized nugget they discovered that’s so shockingly effective, they tell everyone.  This is mine.

I require all my students to have an upcoming performance gig scheduled.  If they don’t, they take a break from coaching until they’ve got one.

I’m not picky about what kind of gig it is, and I can help them schedule one if they’re novices.  It could be an audition, karaoke, Toastmasters event, a church gig, an open mic, a choir gig, a club gig, concert or recital, a house concert, a studio session, a conference session, a Youtube video posting, a contest submission, an application deadline, a talent show, an anniversary offering to their beloved, but SOMETHING with an audience, and an actual date picked and circled on their calendar.

You know why:  deadlines motivate.

I would never have instituted this rule, it seems so mean and results-oriented, and I’m nurturing and I value process.  Really, do we have to be on the treadmill all the damn time?   But the evidence from my own students, as well as from the 200+ artists in my local network was undeniable:   the ones who had upcoming performance gigs on the books made progress, and the ones who didn’t… didn’t.

Well, shit.

And it didn’t matter if they were good or bad students, musicians, speakers, or actors, novice or pro.  Age made no difference; it was a 100% predictable result.

The students with upcoming gigs did their homework, asked questions, chewed on things, sometimes panicked or argued, often experimented.  They sizzled in the pan.

The students without gigs apologized, found excuses, and missed session appointments.   And charging them for missed lessons didn’t fix it, but the performance deadline did.  Here’s a solid Duke behavioral psych study about it, and there’s good speculation that it’s because risk to our reputation is a more powerful motivator than risk to our bank book.

I tell other teachers about this “Must Have Gig” rule, and many like it, but I understand why they can’t all do it.

If you want to maintain a full schedule of ongoing students, you don’t tell them they have to take a break until they’ve got an upcoming gig.  No, you keep them paying, you don’t take it personally, and you just wait it out til they get interested again.  But I suck at baby-sitting, and I’m lucky enough to have multiple income streams, so my “I’m an effective teacher” ego wins out.  I do it because it works.

I’ve run into disagreement, mostly from reticent students. I’ve had several people decline to start sessions when I told them up front.  One came back to me with a link to something about the 10,000 hour rule – like, the person wanted to practice for 10,000 hours before performing. I sent back this link.

If you believe in the 10k hour rule, go read it.   I’ll wait.  Good.  So, now you know that the 10k rule is kinda bullshit.

However, the kernel inside it is true:  experience matters.   The “Must Have Gig” rule is about getting that experience, and with a good teacher to leverage it, progress comes fast.

I’ve also gotten this argument from a pro recording artist, which I took more seriously:  he said, “if I put out unpolished work, I’ll do damage to my reputation.”

Yes, you will.  That’s why this works.