One of the first things we tell participants is that our Stand & Deliver foundational presentation skills workshop has a ‘cry factor’ of about 9. (Note: All Combustion workshops have a ‘cry factor’ rating which might tell you a lot about our weird and wonderful ways.). Despite it having been deemed “better than therapy” by some, faces usually blanch. Looks are exchanged. Nervous titters. A hand is raised. “Umm, what does that actually mean?”
We explain that what we’re trying to help them do is find their voice. The authentic stripped down one. Not the bullshit persona that’s been built up as armor from years of negative criticism, fear and rejection. The true inside place that is begging to be heard. And maybe, just maybe, they can tap into it. And maybe, just maybe, it will make them feel something realand they’ll be able to find what we call ‘swagger’. Ergo, emotion. Ergo, tears.
Incredulous looks are exchanged. Eyes widen. Considering the implications of this, some start nervously glancing towards the door. The room gets quiet.
“If this happens” I say, “I want you to try and go with it. If you can stand and tell your story through tears it proves that your emotional pendulum is capable of swinging pretty far which is a really good thing. It will also release some of your worst fears when you realize that everyone will be moved and support you. And lastly, you’ll be in the very fine company of the criers who have come before you.”
The speech stays pretty much the same every time I deliver it – regardless of audience.
It was a Wednesday. In came a group of senior IT professionals from a large financial services organization. Smart, seasoned, largely introverted, ALL male, and very, very corporate. A tough crowd. To say they didn’t believe this speech would be an understatement. Afternoon came and it was time for everyone to get up one by one to do their presenting thing and receive personalized feedback on strengths, issues, fears and how to handle and release them in order to unleash their ‘superpowers’.
Up came this lovely suit clad man with ‘bank’ written all over him. Pulling a random topic out of the hat, he was quickly off and running. Jovial, personable and enthusiastic – too much so. I called him on it. Asked why it seemed more important that we like him than it was that we ‘see’ him (among other things). It stopped him cold. We discussed a few potential reasons while other participants quietly observed. “You’re so obviously the guy”, I told him, “that I’d go to for help at the cottage. If my boat broke, or my dock needed to come out of the water, or I had extra beer that needed drinking. And you would be truly happy to oblige. You’re already that guy. You don’t need to work so hard. Now let’s try it again and this time, talk to us about something that’s important to you.”
He nodded, hesitated for only a second or two and without thinking or filtering, just starting talking. Within seconds his face changed. I could almost see the exact moment that it got real for him. Then the floodgates opened and he was completely overcome with emotion. While it would be indiscreet to provide details here, suffice it to say that his story was very intimate and very real. There was not a dry eye in the house. A co-worker even got up and hugged him right in the middle. But he kept going through his tears. I was beyond proud.
When he was done, there was a full standing ovation.
We took a break so everyone could breathe it out a little. He came to me, eyes red and a little wild and said “I don’t know what happened. I don’t understand.” “I do.” I said. “You found your truth. And then you found your swagger.” And we hugged hard.
Everyone deserves to find their authentic voice. Yet most corporate environments encourage the absolute opposite of this – to adopt some ‘pre-approved’ persona. Don’t believe it. It’s bullshit. Secret is, many of the leaders around us got to where they are not because they toed the corporate line, but because they DID find their own voice and were fearless in the protection and nurturing of it both one-on-one and in front of a crowd. And they were seen as a result.
Don’t let your environment knock the ‘you’ out of you. Regardless of industry, role or discipline, its what makes you unique, powerful and unforgettable. Remember, even bankers cry. And that’s a good thing.
PS – He wasn’t the only ‘crier’ of the day. That was a good thing too.