The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™
JULY 2004, Sec. II
Pondering the source of powerful presentations, the Stress Doc posits two
concepts that all manner of speakers, trainers and educators might find useful:
a) going from a vertical to a horizontal energy flow and b) preparing a speaker
to leader, audience to symphony transformation.
The Energy and Art of Powerful Presentation
Recent speaking events and encounters have been triggering thoughts about the
power source of public speaking. The ideational rumbling is pushing me to
rethink some conceptual building blocks of my training program, "How to Become a
Great Presenter: Being Dynamically Engaging and Interactively Funny." The
initial catalyst was watching fellow presenters at an LA conference for Legal
Administrators. My cohorts were clearly experienced. Two of the three were
quite articulate and animated (one was a best-selling author); all were relating
to the audience. However, for me, the nature and extent of the relating and
connecting were problematic. Both speakers shared some useful information about
assertive communication. Both used relevant questions to elicit answers from
audience members. But the overall tone of the presentation as well as the
speaker-audience exchange seemed too familiar and too predictable…too
Narcissism aside, I could not help but compare the energy level in the room to
my fairly raucous morning presentation (barely "controlled chaos" being my
favorite state). Granted, immediately presenting after lunch frequently poses a
challenge regarding audience attention. However, the issue of room energy and
electricity (or lack thereof) was not simply related to blood sugar levels or
readiness for nap time. From my perspective, engaging the audience both with
purpose and passion (and let's also add a dash of playfulness) is a necessary
mix for dynamic presentations. However, it's still not a sufficient formula.
For reaching the next level of "higher presentational power," the participants
need to engage with each other with the same kind of vitality and spirit that
the speaker hopefully brings to the performance. Of course, the ultimate goal
of this audience interplay is educational and not simply to entertain. Audience
member interaction should bring to life the relevant ideas and the opportunity
to apply problem-solving tools and techniques.
Let me return to my opening ruminations. While playing with an outline in
preparation for my speaking skills program, an important distinction
crystallized: as a public presenter, I needed to be both a dynamic speaker and
a powerful leader to realize my objectives in the "Great Presenter" program.
While ultimately these roles must be woven together, for clarification purposes
let me first broadly distinguish them. Consider these two acronyms: for the
speaker role, "Get a GRIP" and for the leader role "Get a LIFE."
1. Get a GRIP. As a speaker:
G = Intently or gently grab the audience's attention
R = Understand you are building a relationship with both
individuals and with the audience as a whole
I = Share relevant information both about subject matter and your
professional/personal experience or identity to help establish your
P = Prepare the audience for the speaker-leader role
transformation by being Purposeful, Provocative, Passionate and
Playful (Emaill firstname.lastname@example.org for my article and model on the
"Four 'P's Powerful of Presentation")
2. Get a LIFE. As a leader:
L = Design and facilitate a structured environment for audience members
that encourages mutual listening, learning and laughing
I = Generate a variety of small and large group interactive
exercises that have both a high task and high touch learning, playing and team
F = Build a variety of feedback loops among individuals, within
groups, between teams and among the community as a whole, that is, cultivate a
"symphonic" performance framework
E = Both model and allow participants to demonstrate the "Seven 'E's
of Excellent Presentation":
An Educator who brings Expertise
An Entertainer who brings Expressiveness
An Evangelist who brings Empathy
And for that final "E" don't forget your Energy!
And my choice of two slogans -- one popular, the other original -- also
highlights the difference between the speaker role and the leader role:
a) a speaker must be able to "Walk the Talk," to demonstrate that he
doesn't just know the subject matter, but truly understands it, that is, he or
she is able to help others grasp fine details and glean a big picture sense of
their experience and
b) the analogous leader in this "Become a Great Presenter" model is an orchestra
leader who enables participants -- individuals, teams and the
audience/performance community as a whole -- to bring out their best music.
Naturally, such a figure must be able to "Command the Big Band."
Let's continue this illustration process by first differentiating further the
speaker and leader roles by information and energy flow. Next, presentational
and interactive techniques and structures will illuminate this speaker-to-leader
A. Information and Energy Flow. In speaking mode the information flow
is basically two-way:
1. Speaker to Audience. This mode often involves the expert sharing
information and ideas with an audience that is hopefully attentive despite being
in a relatively passive (okay, let's be positive, a "receptive") learning
state. Often there is a hierarchical effect: the speaker is in the "one up"
position and the participants are in a "one down."
2. Audience to Speaker. After the speaker has shared some or all of his
or her presentation, audience members can reverse the energy flow by asking
questions or commenting on the speaker's points. Of course, participants may
also respond to ideas or issues raised by other audience members. And when this
happens there is some shift in the information-energy flow from the vertical
(speaker-audience or audience-speaker) to the horizontal (between and among
individuals and groups). If this horizontal shift is purposefully encouraged
there is a beginning role transformation from "speaker" to "leader."
B. Speaker-Leader Transformation. Some might call the inducement of
"horizontal shifting" facilitation, that is, a process whereby a guide helps
others share ideas and emotional support along with expediting group
problem-solving. However, when the presenter is using both individual speaking
skills and conscious role modeling behaviors, purposefully heightening
motivational states as well as creating group structures that stimulate small
and large group audience venting, playing and imaginative strategizing then, in
my mind, the role is one of leadership rather than facilitation.
Let me briefly outline my facilitator-speaker transformation process and
information-energy flow as it unfolds during one of my Practice Safe Stress:
Creatively Managing Stress and Building Team Cooperation through Humor
programs. (A more complete description and explanation of this workshop and
leadership process can be found in my new book, Practice Safe Stress:
Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout, and Depression -- A
Personal, Professional, and Organizational Guide. Email email@example.com
for more information.)
1. Opening Story (Vertical Flow). While some open with a packaged or
spontaneous joke, my preference is a vivid or identifiable story. I usually
open with a parts serious-parts humorous tale about my first stress seminar with
a truly battle-tested group -- VA Hospital Head Nurses. Passionately recalling
the survival slogans of these embattled professionals usually elicits some
(nervous) laughter: "Do your eight and hit the gate" and "Nine to five and stay
2. Three "B" Stress Barometer Exercise with Group Feedback (Horizontal and
Vertical Flows). After my opening battlefield vignette, I want to determine
just how well the audience knows stress. (Or at least how open they will be
regarding the subject.) I directly move into an exercise that provides three
a) Small group horizontal flow. The larger audience is broken up into
smaller groups that discuss the following question: "How does your Brain, Body
and Behavior let you know when you are under more stress than usual?" While
some are surprised by the openness of the task, recall that one of the "P"s for
a "Powerful Presentation" is "Provocative." The all too human nature of the
question makes involvement hard to resist. Actually, the sharing quickly lets
team members know they are not alone when it comes to dealing with stress; the
group is taking a beginning-bonding step.
b) Small group-large group horizontal flow. Now a number of the groups
share their recorded Three "B" lists with the entire room. Whereas the small
group exchange was creating a sense of common identity (or at least shared
stress symptoms) and empathy, sharing with the entire audience stimulates the
realization that to some degree we all are on the "stress-ship enterprise."
These days most of us are both hurtling through cyberspace and having to cope
with stormy, "lean-and-mean," anytime-anywhere atmospheric pressures that are
breaking down the protective "oh no"-zone layers between our work and home
c) Audience-speaker vertical flow. The third energy shift occurs in
response to my playful riffs working off the group's Three "B" lists. For
example, when a group mentions sleep disturbance, my retort captures the
double-edged nature of the smoke signal: "Aren't there some mornings when you
just don't want to get out from under the covers for nothing? Yet aren't there
folks who know all the best buys on Ebay or the QVC Home Shopping Channel at
three in the morning?"
However, a key aspect of this two-way speaker mode process is that the audience
has generated the material for my comic rejoinders. If still a vertical flow,
it is audience-initiated.
3. The Four Stages of Burnout (Vertical Flow with Horizontal Moment).
Now I revert to the more traditional speaker mode presenting the "Four Stages of
Burnout." (Email me for the popular conceptual essay on the "erosive spiral.")
While the exchange is mostly vertical -- speaker to audience -- I do break up
the serious information flow by leading the audience in a "group sigh."
Laughter is also evoked by the following question: "When do you hear people
engaged in heavy and labored sighing and breathing (other than when you call
those 1-900 numbers)?"
Actually, before the above question I also playfully note the sensual aspect of
the audience sigh: "Ooh that feels good." (In fact, this group sighing process
has a horizontal flow quality that heightens the sense of the audience as a
harmonizing chorale. The entire transaction intimates the leadership mode for
which I am aspiring -- "orchestra leader." More on this later.)
Functions of Humor
Also, the use of humor has several purposes beyond simply conveying
information. First, in the context of a serious message, humor creates a change
of pace in the presentation. This is important for capturing and sustaining
audience attention. Laughing heartily also releases those calming endorphin
chemicals; the process has been likened to providing inner organs a brief but
vital mind-body massage. By relaxing an audience, this mental massage enables
folks to laugh knowingly at their own flaws and foibles. Healing humor,
laughter and the subsequent emotional catharsis lubricates not just lightness
but also enlightenment: participants may laugh and flow from the "Ha-ha" to the
"Aha!" Perhaps we can call it "Humor R & R": Relaxation and Reflection.
People are more open to a serious message when it is gift-wrapped with humor.
Greater openness, emotional release and self-awareness…surely we are going
beyond imparting information and moving into the realm of motivation. And my
next speaker sequence integrates the two.
4. Motivational Rap (Vertical Flow). After outlining "The Four Stages
of Burnout," heaviness envelops the room: "Oh, oh he's been peeking in my
window" or "Oh no, he's talking about me!" Participants are now looking to
break the building individual and collective tension. And I accommodate them by
going into performer mode with costume: Blues Brother hat, black sunglasses and
tambourine while explaining that I'm pioneering the field of psychologically
humorous rap music -- "Shrink Rap" ™ Productions. While the groans cascade
down, the audience is up for an outrageously playful performance. And I
accommodate, spouting clever lyrics while prancing-rapping about the room.
Especially when laughing people can see themselves in the lyrics: "inside your
car looks like a pocketbook on wheels."
Clearly, there's motivational method to my madness. First, there's the
emotional transformation -- the presentational ambiance has swung wildly from
the serious to the ridiculous, with most people's moods going along for the
ride. In fact, I share the poignant observation of the comedic genius, Charlie
Chaplin, regarding the inextricable relationship between the tragic and the
comic: "A paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the
tragic which arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the
face of natural forces and in order not to go crazy."
Role Modeling and Role Shifting
And when feeling volatile if not emotionally vulnerable, participants are ready
for guidance and operational structure to help steady their emotional state.
Without directly saying so, as a "Shrink Rapper" I have been demonstrating "out
of the box" (if not "over the edge") attitudes and behaviors that are possible
and desirable. In addition, hopefully, my performance is preparing and
motivating others to explore such outrageous behavior during a forthcoming,
moderately risk-taking yet ultimately safe and controlled interactive exercise.
That is, we are further priming the audience for the next transformation: the
presentational role shift from speaker to leader and the concomitant vertical to
horizontal, multi-systemic informational-energy exchange.
A key characteristic of leadership is being a role model. And performing the
rap allows me to model some key performance qualities. In this program you can
be playful, if not somewhat outrageous; you can take risks and poke fun at
yourself as well as skewer some of the stress carriers in your life. And this
experience is often liberating: you can get out of your normal-professional
adult skin and be childlike and creative.
As previously noted, people are looking to regain some predictability if not
control of the proceedings and their emotions. Following the burnout stages
tension and with the help of the rap modeling the audience is ready to be guided
into the purposefully passionate Stress Doc playground. The transformation of
the speaker role is complete. Now you are ready to take the stage as an
"orchestra leader," helping individuals, small teams and the audience as a whole
to interact, strategize and harmonize.
5. Discussion and Drawing Exercise (Horizontal Flow and Vertical
Follow-up). Again, the audience is divided into small groups. Each group
grapples with "the sources or causes of stress and conflict in your workplace
operations." The groups are given ten minutes for discussion and another ten
minutes to come up with a group picture that pulls together in a unified theme
the individual stress perspectives -- a stress icon, a story board, a
Dilbert-like cartoon, etc. (Email me for an article that elaborates the details
of the exercise.) Examples are provided, e.g., when working with Navy personnel
it's not uncommon to see images of sinking ships and shark's circling in the
While some folks are initially anxious about the drawing part of the exercise,
with the horizontal flow of group brainstorming, invariably an idea is thrown
out that all find workable if not compelling. The group is off and running and
drawing. And laughing. Also, working with large sheets of flipchart paper and
colored markers add to the playful experience and ambiance. The beauty of this
exercise is that:
a. all can participate in idea and/or image generation; there is not "one right"
answer; in fact, the interactive experience encourages the emergence of a
variety of verbal, visual and emotional catalysts and leaders
b. people discover that they are not the only one struggling with stress issues;
they are not alone. In fact, social-psychology research shows that misery
doesn't just like company…it likes miserable company! ;-)
c. diverse teams can be created, for example, allowing representatives of
different departments in an organization to work together. People better grasp
the bigger organizational picture and frequently begin to empathize with their
stressed colleagues across the divisional, hierarchical and/or bio-cultural
d. instead of just a gripe session, participants are challenged to come up with
a tangible product. People literally draw out their frustration while laughter
rings out across the room as the outrageous imagery unfolds across the large
sheet of paper. (Did you catch the four-letter word embedded in "outrageous?")
As a leader you have set in motion an exercise and group process that truly
motivates the release of emotion, as well as the sharing of stories and of
empathy while heightening productive energy, teamwork and creative
problem-solving. Drawing on our musical model, the group becomes a quartet or
quintet generating some powerful riffs and melodies.
And then comes the "fashion show" part of the program. Coming up to the front
of the room and before the entire audience: a) a selected spokesperson does a
show and tell with the team picture or b) when audience size dictates, the
auditorium or ballroom is turned into an art gallery and participants walk
around viewing their colleagues' designs. (In this latter scenario, a handful
of pictures are usually selected for the audience show and tell.) Trust me, the
teams love showing their pictures and art-ticulating about their overall theme
and the outrageous imagery.
The small group-to-large group sharing generates an uncommon collective
chemistry. A verbal and horizontal, Q & A review of what makes this exercise
useful and fun further solidifies the sense of harmony and community. And
subsequent exercises encourage participants to extract from the drawings key
stress issues or organizational barriers to productive operations and job
satisfaction. These problematic images and themes are then used as a basis for
"consultation team problem-solving" and strategic recommendations. Finally,
some "save the retreat" structures or processes for bringing the program's
collective ideas and energy back to the day-to-day workplace are identified.
Hopefully I have shared "hands on" tools and have shed light on this
speaker-leader transformation: you now have concrete conceptual and applied
understanding for becoming a full-fledged "orchestra leader." With guidance and
inspiration individuals and groups are ready for the the "vertical-to-horizontal
flow" learning curve challenge. In the course of the program the status of
participants has shifted from passive or receptive audience attendees to engaged
learners, laughers and leaders. Autonomous teams are now working and playing
together with synergistic effect. As a presenter, evolving from speaker to
leader means creatively enabling systems small (quartets) and large (a symphony)
to bring out their best music! Surely this is also a blueprint for ultimately
helping one and all...Practice Safe Stress!
Powerful Programs: June-July
1. Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA; Managing Transitional Stress;
programs to help employees managing a major reorganization
2. Celebrity Cruise Lines Guest Speaker; weeklong cruise from Seattle to
3. Chadbourne Clarke Law Firm, Wash, DC; lunchtime Safe Stress program
4. CFUN Conference 2004, MD; Programs on Dynamic Speaking, Managing
Project Conflict and was the Speaker Coach at the confeence
1. Training/Marketing Kit:
Want to strengthen your ability to lead or market a stress workshop or any kind
of speaking/training program? Consider the Stress Doc Training/Marketing Kit,
which includes both "how to" manual, 20-minute highlights video, and articles,
as well as the opportunity for phone coaching. For more info:
Training/Marketing Kit http://stressdoc.com/kitbook.htm or email.
2. "R & R" (Rap & Relaxation) CD:
(a) Relaxation-Visualization CD (10-minutes); with three Shrink Raps™ and two of
the Stress Doc's classic articles: "The Four Stags of Burnout" and "The Stress
Doc's 'Top Ten' Stress Tips." (Total time: 55-minutes.)
3. Stress Doc Books:
a) Really Hot: The Paperback Version of Practice Safe Stress "live":
Practicing Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout, &
Depression; Stress Doc Enterprises
Published: 2004; Pages: 372
Price: $20 + $4.95 priority shipping in US; $3.95 in Metro, DC area; $7 in
Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined
Or, download: The Stress Doc's Store Front
Ebook Price: $15
Practice Safe Stress tackles the "Toxic-Traumatic Trio" -- stress, burnout, and
depression. Learn practical and playful, inspiring and insightful strategies
for transforming these toxins into life-affirming energy, creative focus, and
goal-achievement. Bringing a personal, professional, and organizational
perspective, the book is alive with imaginative language and memorable "how to"
§ Understanding the "Four Stages of Burnout," the "Erosive Spiral"
§ Rebuilding your fire and developing "Natural SPEED"
§ Achieving liberation through "Emancipation Procrastination"
§ Reducing conflict as a healing or motivational "psychohumorist" ™
There are satirical essays on "lean-and-MEAN" managers and on mismanaged
downsizings. Learn to "laugh in the face of layoffs" and ponder the possibility
of "Van Gogh, Prozac, and Creativity." The Stress Doc also shares his his own
trials, errors, and triumphs in battling the "Toxic Trio."
Safe Stress provides many discrete "Top Ten" lists and "strategic tips" essays
useful as educational/informational handouts. To quote the Internet Newsroom:
Your Guide to the World of Electronic Factgathering: "The most outstanding
feature…is his 'psychohumor' essays. Always witty, thought-provoking, and
helpful." With this easy-to-follow, fast-paced, and fun health and wellness
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b) The Four Faces of Anger: Model and Method
Transforming Anger, Rage and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior
The "Four Faces of Anger" presents an elegantly simple yet intellectually
powerful model that will challenge your beliefs about anger -- both regarding
its range of emotion and its potential for positive communication. The book is
a dynamic blend of popular psychohumor articles, essays, case examples and short
vignettes, as well as Stress Doc Q & As and even "Shrink Rap" ™ lyrics. You
will gain ideas and tools, skills and techniques for personal control, playful
intervention and conflict mastery. Learn to:
Ø Identify self-defeating styles of anger and violence-prone personalities
Ø Transform hostility and rage into assertion and passion
Ø Confront directly or disarm outrageously critics and (passive) aggressors
Ø Bust the guilt not burst a gut
Ø Prevent emails from becoming e-missiles
And finally, his years as a multimedia psychotherapist and as a Stress and
Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service yield a survival and
spiritual mantra at the heart of the "Four Faces of Anger":
Seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor…May the Farce Be With You!
Published: 2004; Pages: 114
Paperback: $23.95 (includes shipping and handling)
c) Paper Book -- Truly on the Cutting Edge
From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats:
The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc, Stress Doc Enterprises, 1995
A 90 page compilation of my former syndicated radio essays, pioneering songs in
the field of psychologically humorous rap music -- "Shrink Rap" Productions - a
creative visualization poem and other humorous lyrics/poems. "Stress Brake"
radio essays are short (300 words), fast-paced and witty, covering such topics
as stress, burnout, anger and conflict resolution, time management, creativity,
men's and women's issues, romantic relationships, codependency, etc. (They make
excellent fillers for newsletters.)
Price: $20 (which covers priority postage and handling)
To purchase books and/or tape, make check payable to: Mark Gorkin
Send check to:
Stress Doc Enterprises
1616 18th Street, NW #312
Washington, DC 20009-2542
Questions? Call 202-232-8662
4. Chat Group:
Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat DC Debate Tuesdays,
9:30-11pm EST DC Support Chat (Alas, only for AOL members.)