Moving Towards Mastery: Freebo’s Story

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I’ve recently been on my soap box speaking about the value of striving for what I call Presence and Presentation Mastery. What that means to me is being willing to do whatever it takes to achieve excellence (not perfection—there’s a vast difference between the two) as both a speaker and in your ability to be genuinely and consistently present when others are watching and the stakes are high. Being fully present, and being able to clearly and confidently share your unique message with eyeballs on you, are hallmarks of great leadership—and of great acting and great speaking, for that matter. Mastery grows confidence. And confidence boosts presence.

So whenever I run across a great example of someone who is embracing mastery, it makes my heart sing. As is the case with singer-songwriter and motivational speaker, Freebo, who flew from California to work with me on finessing his signature keynote presentation, The Courage to Change The Things You Can.

Freebo started out professionally as Bonnie’s Raitt’s bass player for the better part of a decade. He has played bass for countless world-class performers, including Ringo Starr and Dr.John. But as he so beautifully explains in his keynote, there came a point in the middle of his life when he realized that there was more in him that needed to be expressed. Instead of playing bass for other artists, he wanted to be able to stand center stage and sing and play songs that expressed what he knew and felt. The one sticky wicket was the fact that he’d never actually written a song in his life. Not only that, he was used to singing backup harmony from time to time, not carrying an entire song with his own voice.

Remarkably, these potential obstacles did not daunt him.

Instead, he did what he needed to do to overcome them: He launched into what has been a twenty year commitment to developing mastery as both a singer and a songwriter. What that means, specifically, is that he buckled down and learned how to play acoustic guitar in a style that works well as vocal accompaniment. And he took voice lessons, learning and practicing vocal techniques that helped to strengthen and open up his voice and develop his vocal confidence. He also wrote songs relentlessly, paying attention to how the best of the best songwriters put their songs together. When he achieved a level of songwriting he felt he could be proud of, and that other songwriters would respect, he upped his songwriting game by asking other top-flight songwriters to co-write with him, which catalyzed some of his best work.

He also got sober in the process… He “did the work,” as he puts it. But that’s his story to tell.

Freebo hung out with my husband and me for almost five days. And during that time, in between our coaching sessions, he had several gigs to play. Before each gig, Freebo did whatever it took to feel ready: He woke up his voice and his breath by doing a series of vocal exercises; he practiced his guitar with focus and intention; he made sure to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water; he rested as much as possible; and he was conscious of the food he put in his body, wanting to feel energized and not sluggish on stage. This commitment to ritualistically doing what it takes to maintain and grow your talents and abilities in the name of fully expressing yourself with eyeballs upon you is a hallmark of Presence and Presentation Mastery.

Having seen Freebo playing with Bonnie Raitt, back in the day, with his big, bouncing afro and irrepressible energy, I am both impressed and respectful of the commitment he made to let that life go in order to embrace his deeper purpose (what I call your “Soul Role,” and what Freebo terms your Calling). In our many conversations, it became clear to me that, in order to honor his calling, Freebo was willing walk into what I call the Presence Process with courage and conviction.

The Presence Process stands on the shoulders of one of my Five Presence Principles, Commit Thyself. Which, in itself, is made up of four levels of commitment:

Commit to the Presence Process as a whole. This is why I have my presentation coaching clients raise their right hand and swear they will say yes to whatever speaking gig comes along, no matter how scary that feels.

Commit to working with a strong and driving intention. Freebo was and continues to be driven by a deep committment to realizing and utlizing his gifts to the fullest by being a performing singer-songwriter and motivational keynote speaker of the highest order. He is clear about why he is on the path of mastery. The more clear and specific you are about why you are choosing to step into the Presence Process and move towards mastery– whether it’s to be able to motivate your team more effectively, or to find the courage to speak your truth with more frequency or confidence at meetings–the more resolved you’ll be to stay on your path.

Commit to learning and growing, doing whatever it takes getting good—really at whatever it is you’re not yet really good at. Get the coaching. Do the reading. Find the teachers. Because getting really good builds confidence. And confidence builds presence.

Commit to feeling the discomfort, the vulnerability that comes from being in the Murky Middle—the icky place of limbo that always comes when you move away from what you know, from what is safe, and paddle into the waters of not knowing. Because growing into who you are meant to be— as a speaker, a leader, a human being—requires that you face, feel and deal with the dealing with the discomfort necessary to real change.

The Presence Process is not a magic bullet. It’s lifetime work, a process over time. It’s not for the faint of heart. But as I-and as the clients I work with me who commit to the Process– have discovered, it is deeply fulfilling. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having realized your potential in the name of what you’re here to do on this planet. As Freebo told me, he’s happier and more fulfilled now–in front of the audiences with whom he shares his songs and wisdom—than he was when he played Carnegie Hall with Bonnie.

There’s no question in my mind that Freebo will continue to embrace the path of mastery in the name of realizing his presence and presentation potential for the rest of his life—and, in so doing, deeply touch the hearts and souls of the audience members.

What about you? How masterful are you as a presenter? How willing and able are you to bring an expanded, magnetic leadership presence to your work and world? Which of your three Planes of Presence—energetic, physical or verbal—do you know you need to increase or improve? And are you willing to commit yourself to the Presence Process and the path of mastery? Are you willing to do what it takes—daily, regularly—to get good, really good, at what you’re not yet good at?

Nothing is more important than you realizing your unique potential—as a leader, a speaker, a human being – so you can be of greatest service to the clients, customers and colleagues you serve. Commit to moving towards mastery, so you can use your words—and your powerful presence—to change your world.