Setting the Stage for Success: A Presentation Tip From An American Idol standout

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As some of you already know, I watch American Idol. I do this for many reasons, not the least of which is that I get to observe performers come through under pressure, which provides fodder for articles like this. Last week, one of my favorite of this season’s performers, Crystal Bowersox, knocked Kris Kristofferson’s classic song “Me and Bobby McGee” out of the park. As usual, she was relaxed and emotiohnally available, grounded, solid and, seemingly, utterly herself– everything I strive to help my clients achieve when they step onto the speaking platform. At the end of the performance, after …

Nurture the Flame that Fuels You

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You strike a match, and light a sputtering candle. Around you, the wind whips, threatening the flame as it struggles to take hold. Instinctively, you cup your hand protectively around the tiny tongue of fire, feeling its warmth grow against your palm. It wouldn’t take much to squelch this dancing flame—one well placed breath, one cruel pinch of the fingers, one snaking puff of wind. Somewhere in your deepest self you understand: If you want to use this flame to light the way –for yourself, for others– you’re going to have to protect it, nurture it, honor it. Otherwise it, …

Bragging Rights: Why it’s Fine to Shine

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I see it all the time: Amazing, capable women who choose to give their power away by disowning or belittling their considerable accomplishments. It happened just this weekend, at a public speaking workshop that I facilitated. Not one but two women stood up, gave presentations about their life’s work, and essentially pooh-poohed the astonishing evidence of their brilliance and determination. “So, I kind of put together several conferences,” said one woman, describing the growth of a conference series and a foundation she’d established to help bring awareness of her son’s rare genetic disease to the world at large… “and, oh, …

Physics At Work: Excite Your Atoms And Energize Your Speaking!

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I can’t tell you how many speaking clients complain to me about their inability to hold people’s attention while they’re giving a presentation. I tell them, “You get back what you put out.”” And then I turn on my trusty camera and videotape them doing their thing. During playback, my clients get to see themselves as they actually come across: Well meaning, usually articulately, but often lacking energy in body and voice. Which, as speakers, makes them about as compelling as a leaf of wilted lettuce.So, how to solve this dilemma? The answer lies in a sentence from Gary Zukav’s …

A Challenge To Michigan Entrepreneurs: Shout Out and Share Your Great Big Voice!

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I don’t follow tennis much, but I am well aware of tennis stars Venue and Serena Williams, sisters who turned women’s tennis into a power game with their sheer physical domination. Picking up the newspaper last night, I read an article about these exceptional athletes, and was struck by a statement that Venus Williams made after advancing to the finals of the 1997 Women’s Open: “I’m tall,” she said, “I’m black. Everything’s different about me. Just face the facts.” Venus doesn’t apologize one whit for who she is, and what makes her different: she just accepts it and embraces her …

When The Obstacle Is In Me

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The other day, Mark Le Blanc, my wonderful business coach, reminded me that, as a motivational speaker and presentation skills coach and trainer, I am always and only one big toe ahead of the clients and audience members I’m trying to inspire to greater fulfillment. He’s right of course. Every day I try to motivate other people to stand out, be heard and move forward in their lives and careers. And every day, I do the very same thing to and for myself. I motivate the motivator, which, I admit, can sometimes be a daunting task. Some days I’m brilliant …

Preparing To Perform: Lessons From Miss Eartha Kitt

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I recently watched a PBS special about the life and career of singer, actress, cabaret artist and all-around stellar performer, Eartha Kitt. Miss Kitt– who many of you will remember as the purring, growling, sinewy Catwoman from the original Batman television series) died this past Christmas day at the age of 81. When asked by the interviewer how on earth she was still able to do what she loves– and do it so very well—Miss Kitt replied: “You have to prepare yourself to do what want to do you.” Then she went on to explain that, for her, preparing involved …

Dedicate Your Work And Watch It Soar!

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Last night I watched the semi-finals of Dancing with the Stars while lying in bed eating dinner with my husband and my three cats. Tease me all you want, but it was a whole lot more fun to watch people in satin and sequins mamboing and fox-trotting than, say, watching doom and gloom on the TV news, or a blood and guts flick on the Spike channel. In any event, Lance Bass, a contestant who used to perform with the boy-band, N Sync, did something unusual to help him get a leg-up on the competition: He brought his beloved granddad …

Stop Preparing And Just Do It!

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When I teach presentation skills to my coaching and training clients, I always tell them to prepare to the point that they know their material inside out. Because, as jazz musician, Bradford Marsalis has pointed out, “If you’re not prepared, it’s too late.” Of course, this applies to anything you’re trying to accomplish in life, not just public speaking.But then there comes a point where you need to stop preparing and just DO it. This requires a necessary leap of faith that is terrifying to many people. And so, they keep preparing, and stay stuck.Several years ago, while living in …

Lessons From An Olympian: When You Fall, Get Back On The Beam

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Every night this week, I’ve screamed like a kid watching the American Olympic Team swim, dive, leap, run, and spike balls across nets. I’ve loved watching Team U.S.A. win, especially Ann Arbor’s own Michael Phelps, who, as of this writing, did the impossible and won a record-breaking goal of 8 gold medals for his swimming prowess. But I’ve loved watching our team members lose, because it’s been there that I’ve seen the greatest courage saw the greatest courage and the hardest lessons learned. Take the case of the American women’s gymnastics team, and most particularly Alicia Sacramone. I’d already taken …

A Platter Of Poppies

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As soon as she gave her hand to him in marriage, the giving began in earnest: When he balked at spending time with her beloved extended family, she gave in. When he refused to let her relatives call her by her childhood nickname, she gave over. When he belittled her dream to act in community theatre productions, she gave it up. Bit by bit, she gave in, gave over and gave up precious pieces of her very essence, until, under her husband’s stern, unyielding and belittling ministry, she shriveled to the merest wisp of her former self– her passions, her …

When We Dwell In Bittertown: Moving Beyond Misery

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It’s happened to all of us: Just when we think things are going swell, something or somebody comes along and knocks the stuffing right out of us. Demoralized, mis-understood, mis-treated and miserable, we pack our bags and move to Bittertown, where we threaten to remain for good… or at least until we get our come-uppance…someday… somehow. Some of us never make it out of Bittertown. Bittertown: Where, to quote my own song lyrics (BITTERTOWN, © 2007 E.Kelakos) “the coffee’s always black and it burns you going down”… Bittertown, where the café’s are filled with has-beens and never-weres… where you share …

Walking Into the Wind

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Sometimes, for whatever reason, it is all we can to do put one foot ahead the other and take a faltering step forward. And yet, one foot, one step after the other, is all is takes to get us where we need to go—even when the icy winds of our fears conspire to blow us back. I recently facilitated a retreat called “What’s Next?” with my friend and colleague, Chris Wucherer. We were gratified that thirteen wonderful women signed up with the intention of tapping into their deepest wisdom, revitalizing their precious dreams and mapping out specific action steps towards …

When the Well Runs Dry: Priming the Creative Pump

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Let’s face it: Even the most seasoned speakers and performers among us experience the feeling of being “tapped out,” of having their creative or emotional well run dry. It’s not always easy having to “come up with it” time after time, speech after speech, audience after audience. Sometimes, too many consecutive days on the road, or a couple of tough audiences in a row can leave us feeling tired, raw and cranky. And yet, there we are, facing yet another performance, another presentation, another audience. And our audience is expecting us to be at our best, even if we’re not …

The Fallen Actor

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My coaching clients often ask me “What should I do if something horrible happens while I’m giving my speech? What if I completely lose my place/trip as I walk to the podium and scatter my notes/go utterly blank?” My answer is this: Take a lesson from the Fallen Actor. By the third mind-blowing day of the International Performing Arts for Youth conference, I had seen so much amazing, brilliantly produced theatre and storytelling for children, that I was convinced I couldn’t be further impressed. I was dead wrong. The magic happened in a small dark theatre, as I watched two …

SPEEK’s Process Work: Beginning, Middle and (No) End.

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Someone recently asked me to define what I call “Process Work.” I thought about it for a couple of minutes and said, “Process work is the work we do on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis—on ourselves as people, and on the skills and talents that we use in our chosen career path. Process work has a beginning, a middle and no end—It is work that spans and defines our lifetimes.” Anyone who has ever opted for Psychotherapy understands the concept—and value—of process work—as do professional actors. Actors understand that the process of learning to be the best actor they can be …

The Imps of Fear

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When it comes to public speaking, we all face fear, to a certain degree. I like to imagine that we have little Imps of Fear, dancing gleefully on our shoulders, whispering in our ears: “You stink! You’re gonna fail! Everyone will see you’re (pick one) a fraud/ stupid/ a jerk!!!!” Sometimes they are easy to shoo away– but sometimes they are loud enough to pull us off task– if we let them. Debra Messing, who plays Grace on television’s WILL AND GRACE, is apparently terrified of public speaking– and this is a seasoned actress who has no trouble facing a …