The Stress Doc Letter
Now let’s capture categorically the interaction of “Mode” and “Motivational Method,” that is, provide labels for the “Four ‘P’ Principles” and their respective operational “Methods.”
Box 1. Cognitive – Gravitas
Principal = Purposeful
(b) Approach = Understanding
Box 2. Cognitive – Comedia
Principal = Provocative
(b) Approach = Wit
Box 3. Affective – Gravitas
Principal = Passionate
(b) Approach = Spirit
Box 4. Affective – Comedia
Principal = Playful
(b) Approach = Humor
And here is the 2x2 matrix in its visual and conceptual glory:
The Four “P” Principles of Powerful Presentation:
A Paradoxical Model
Mode Gravitas Comedia
The paired words inside the boxes are familiar, yet some of their meanings or associations may prove “out of the box” – surprising and, hopefully, enlightening. Grappling with and gleaning the conceptual and applied essence of these terms will surely expand your potency and your possibilities as a presenter.
(a) Purposeful. A powerful speaker achieves purpose for himself and for his audience by establishing educational, emotional and entertainment “outlines,” “objectives” and “outcomes.” Of course, some presenters are compelled to share their life changing vision, a vision or mission statement that, alas, may be more like a sense of purpose on steroids. (Remember, there’s a fine line between vision and hallucination.)
In addition, the savviest speakers create a learning and sharing structure and process that evolves through time and experience. In fact, if responsive to audience feedback, a dynamic presenter’s instructional and interactional plan may be significantly modified, sometimes even in the middle of a program. Intention and flexibility (may I coin the oxymoron-like “flexible intentionality?”) are requisites of a purposeful and powerful mind set and design-delivery state.
(b) Understanding. According to Webster’s, “understanding” is the comprehensive process and achievement of perceiving and conceiving, that is, the power of comprehending, analyzing, distinguishing and judging. A presenter conveys understanding when he or she goes beyond delivering data or facts. Information now yields ideas that “make experience intelligible.” And often the speaker’s personal experience is the richest source for such intimate understanding.
A speaker also helps the participant appreciate the value of bridging theory and practice and he provides the tools for such bridge-building. In similar fashion, the presenter shows how individual experience or a seemingly unrelated event (the part) relates to concepts, categories and systems (the whole). This newfound breadth and depth enhances a person’s capacity for discrimination, for drawing logical inferences and/or analogical comparisons, and for exploring innovative applications.
Hopefully, this Powerful Presentation Model reflects and begins to transfer such concept-application and parts-whole “understanding.”
(a) Provocative. What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you read the word “provocative?” Is it someone who is sensually enticing or, perhaps, someone who is intentionally irritating? Reasonable responses, but let’s look at the half full side of this semantic equation. Did you know that “provocative” is derived from the French word provocare – “to call forth”? Certainly a powerful presenter wants to stimulate desired thoughts, motives and actions. He or she wants to “arouse curiosity or anticipation” or to generate “discussion or controversy” amongst the audience members. The provocative presenter challenges people to expand their perceptions, to make surprising connections, to “think outside the box” and to “move beyond one’s comfort zone.” Which brings us to a vital and provocative technique and talent.
(b) Wit. Let me reassure you it’s not necessary to be an Oscar Wilde-like wit or wordsmith evoking gales of laughter from an audience. Wit relates more to seeing and creating cognitive possibilities and conceptual pairings. More specifically, wit is “the quick apprehension and apt expression of the connection of analogous properties seemingly unlike.” Wit relates unexpected ideas or integrates the seemingly contradictory. A common example of wit is the label “passive aggressive.” While a paradoxical notion, most of us are all too familiar with such vexing creatures. Or consider the comparative punch line from one of my “Shrink Raps” ™ (a contradictory witticism in its own right):
boss makes demands yet gives little control
So you pray on chocolate and wish life were dull
But office desk’s a mess, often skipping meals
Inside your car looks like a pocketbook on wheels!
Linking the messy insides of a car and a pocketbook is a witty comparison. As Mark Twain, the esteemed man of letters, ingeniously observed:
Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.
Of course, a sharp wit can appear intellectually cold and may be perceived as arrogant or painfully cutting. So the challenge will be to temper just enough that edge; to dip into the “half full” dimensions of “provocative.”
Box 3. Affective – Gravitas
(a) Passionate. Passion! What does it evoke? Intensity, heat, steaminess…the “s”-word: sex? We in Washington, DC know the “s”-word for passion…It is “senator.” (Or it was until Bill Clinton ruined my joke.) Actually, if you have a good dictionary the “s”-word for “passion” is neither sex nor senator, it’s “suffering,” as in the Passion Play. This relates to the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, to the sufferings of a martyr. (Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman!)
So what’s the connection between “suffering,” “passion” and being a powerful presenter? For me it’s fundamental (but beware a passion that has any motivational speaker or leader becoming a self-righteous, “I know the one truth” fundamentalist). As a speaker I must acknowledge, if not savor, my pitfalls and pain; I must speak from the heart not just the head. Also, while honoring and acknowledging humility, I must overcome self-consciousness. A self-effacing ego should not hinder sharing some hard-earned wisdom gleaned from life’s arduous yet adventurous journey.
All this is fuel for my energy output – heat and fire. Yet, ultimately, my frights, flaws and fantasies can be converted into lightness and illumination…and to affirmation. Audiences respect and often see as courageous a speaker who can get real. And perhaps most important there is also self-acceptance. As the psychiatrist Ernst Kris noted: What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at. And as the Stress Doc inverted: What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master! Talk about aphorisms for accepting imperfection, overcoming performance anxiety and becoming a passionate speaker.
So harness and share your spirit and passion and embark on a journey of self-definition along the lifelong, unpredictable yet richly rewarding path of presentational mastery. My unconventional, process as much as goal-oriented mantra: I don’t know where I’m going…I just think I know how to get there!
(b) Spirit. The word “spirit” is truly multi-faceted. For the entrepreneur it conveys a sense of “enterprise” – initiative, aggressiveness, drive and adventurousness – or of “pluck” – nettle, backbone, grit, toughness and gameness (Roget’s International Thesaurus). Certainly all are desirable qualities for powerful presentation. However, I want to explore this protean term with greater semantic, if not spiritual, depth and breadth.
Actually, my exploration will make a homonym-like shift from breadth to “breath.” You see, the first definition of “spirit” is “the breath of life: the animating or vital principle giving life to physical organisms.” And the word “animating” is also revelatory. Its derivation, “anima,” is the expression of an individual’s true inner self reflecting archetypal (that is universal and collective unconscious) ideals of cross cultural conduct in contrast to one’s more surface persona.
And if we delve deeper, into the realm of the supernatural, even here we find semantic support in the guise of a captivating ethereal source. Now “spirit” represents that “other worldly” being held to enter into and possess a person (and I’ll add a group). And surely, a dynamic speaker wants to get under the skin, and inside the individual and collective audience mind; he or she wants to capture their hearts and minds if not “kill” them. (The latter expression, of course, is associated with stand-up comedians.)
Until researching terms for this article, I had overlooked the intimate connection between “spirit” and “inspiration”: The inspire in inspiration literally means to breathe life into. Clearly, a dynamic speaker wants to infuse and touch, to awaken and enliven, to transport and to help self-actualize the spirit of the other. When communicating spirit to spirit some might claim we are connecting to “the vital principle in man and woman coming as a gift from God” (once again an “other worldly” transcendent source). According to Webster’s, we are engaging “the inward personality structure, (the) dynamic drive and creative response” of the individual to the demands encountered on the pathway of becoming.
So sing out from the stage. Let inspired expression be the medium for releasing your passion and for helping others realize their fervent and fertile desires. Be the food for thought and the fuel for the heart, while nurturing and energizing those spirits within and without.
Box 4. Affective – Comedia
(a) Playful. I never realized how many common expressions begin with or involve the word “play.” Nor could I imagine how the variety of expressions with their different connotations speaks to the skills and strategies of the versatile presenter. Consider these examples: “play upon” (words or another’s emotions), “play a role” or “role-play,” “play it by ear” (by truly listening to one’s audience, for example), “play the fool” and “play a trick on.” (Based on my experience, being “mischievous” or a tad “devilish” – two of Roget’s synonyms for “playful” – can be very engaging qualities.) Certainly, a dynamic presenter wants to give “full play” to his emotions – whether play involves range, liberty, license or freedom (within “PG” or, perhaps on occasion, “R”-rated limits). And even the phenomenon of the “play of light and shadow” can be an analogy for the rapid movement or sudden ebbs and flows within and between our two basic dimensions – “thinking-feeling” or “gravitas-comedia.” (And I also freely mix lecture, exercise and group discussion.)
One other duality worth noting is the contrast of “play” and “work.” While the former can be strenuous, for example, playing a competitive sport, true play always retains the objective of “amusement, diversion or enjoyment.”
(b) Humor. Can you think of a more universally accepted, if not admired, way of being “playful” or “playing around” than through humor? I mean, why do all those personal ads invariably ask for a person who “can make me laugh” or who has a good sense of humor? Anyway, “humor” is “the recognition and expression of the incongruities and peculiarities in a situation or conduct.” A capacity for humor often reveals an ability to appreciate and comically convey life’s absurdities, to poke gentle fun at others and also, especially, to laugh at our own flaws and foibles. Such acceptance through knowing laughter is the essence of healing humor. And there is a definite method to mirthful madness: People are more open to a serious message when gift-wrapped with humor!
In contrast to the more clever and verbal aspects of wit, being humorous often has a wildly or subtly outrageous non-verbal component. Consider these well-known comedians or comic teams:
studied or exaggerated gestures and protestations of Jack Benny,
(b) the slapstick of Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello,
(c) the wild antics of Robin Williams or Jerry Lewis,
(d) the nebbish-like and neurotic angst of Woody Allen or Gilda Radner, and
(e) the poignant absurdity of Charlie Chaplin, both in his “Little Tramp” mannerisms and persona and in his vivid and visual depictions of mechanical or megalomaniacal absurdities, e.g., a Hitler character bouncing off his head a huge inflated globe of the world.
In fact, the powerful use of non-verbal behaviors has some of these artists on the edge of being “provocatively playful.” (Can there be such a thing as “wordless witticisms?) Still, I like to distinguish wit from humor with a vivid visual: Imagine blowing up a balloon. Humor is letting the air out and watching the balloon spin and sputter crazily about the room. More keen and concise than humor, wit involves sticking a pin into the balloon. As Shakespeare noted: Brevity is the soul of wit.
While I have tried to argue the playful, universal and critical value of humor, not all would agree with this position. I’m reminded of a syndicated Pogo cartoon. Pogo and his somewhat cynical catfish friend Porky are lazily boating down an unspoiled, scenic river. Porky is crediting God for a job well done…except for one thing. Porky exclaims, “It is jes too bad he didn’t knock off a day earlier when he was ahead.”
Trying to dissuade the catfish of his misanthropic attitude, Pogo claims, “If it weren’t for human beans life wouldn’t have as many laughs.”
Porky’s instant reply: “It wouldn’t need as many.”
Being all too human – whether as speaker or student – we need the laughs. And the aforementioned comic genius, Charlie Chaplin, provides one powerful explanation:
The paradoxical thing in making comedy the tragic is precisely what arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy.
And speaking of powerful forces and the forces of powerful speaking…seek the higher power of humor: May the Farce Be with You!
The “Four ‘P’ Principles of Powerful Presentation” have been outlined as a 2x2 matrix or “Paradoxical Model.” While perhaps an ideal model, for me, the concepts and their application have been evolving over the course of more than two decades. This performance schema is battle-tested! My head and heart-felt belief is that when a presenter blends the “cognitive and effective” as well as the “gravitas and comedia” then, to invert “the bard,” an interactive stage can become a world defined and designed, transformed and transferred by both speaker and audience. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org for articles on integrating interactivity in your programs.) In fact, such interactive potential has me pondering whether this model goes beyond dynamic speaking. Might it also be a template for being an engaging and powerful leader?
So don’t miss the chance to explore and practice this “Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful” dance. Steps to help us all become more “Powerful” and to…Practice Safe Stress!
Subj: Memorial Stone
A woman's husband dies. He had $20,000 to his name. After everything is done at the funeral home and cemetery, she tells her closest friend that there is no money left. The friend says, "How can that be? You told me he had $20,000 a few days before he died. How could you be broke?"
The widow says, "Well, the funeral cost me $6,500. And of course, I had to make the obligatory donation for the church and the organist and all. That was $500 and I spent another $500 for the wake, food and drinks, you know. The rest went for the memorial stone."
The friend says, "$12,500 for the memorial stone? My God, how big was it?"
The widow says, "Three carats."
Subj: Jewish Mothers
MONA LISA'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"After all that money your father and I spent on braces, that's the biggest smile you can give us?"
COLUMBUS' JEWISH MOTHER:
"I don't care what you've discovered, you still could have written!"
MICHELANGELO'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"Can't you paint on walls like other children? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that stuff off the ceiling?"
NAPOLEON'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"All right, if you aren't hiding your report card inside your jacket, take your hand out of there and show me."
ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"Again with the stovepipe hat? Can't you just wear a baseball cap like the other kids
ALBERT EINSTEIN'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"But it's your senior picture. Couldn't you do something about your hair? Styling gel, mousse, something, ANYTHING...?"
GEORGE WASHINGTON'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"The next time I catch you throwing money across the Potomac, you can kiss your allowance good-bye!"
JONAH'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"That's a nice story. Now tell me where you've really been for the last forty years."
THOMAS EDISON'S JEWISH MOTHER:
"Of course I'm proud that you invented the electric ight bulb. Now turn it off and get to bed!"
Jewish Mother's Answering Machine
If you want chicken soup, press 1;
If you want matzoh balls with the soup, press 2;
If you want varnishkas, dial 3;
If you want knishes press 4;
If you want to know how am I feeling, you are calling the wrong number since nobody ever asks me how I am feeling.
A woman in Brooklyn decided to prepare her will and make her final requests. She told her rabbi she had two final requests. First, she wanted to be cremated, and second, she wanted her ashes scattered all over the shopping mall. "Why the shopping mall?" asked the rabbi. "Then I'll be sure my daughters visit me twice a week."
A man is laying on the operating table, about to be operated on by his son, the surgeon. The father says, "Son, think of it this way... If anything happens to me, your mother is coming to live with you."
A visitor to Israel attended a recital and concert at the Moscovitz Auditorium. He was quite impressed with the architecture and the acoustics. He inquired of the tour guide, "Is this magnificent auditorium named after Chaim Moscovitz, the famous Talmudic
"No," replied the guide. "It is named after Sam Moscovitz, the writer."
"Never heard of him. What did he write?"
"A check", replied the guide.
A husband looking through the paper came upon a study that said women use more words than men. Excited to prove to his wife his long-held contention that women in general, and his wife in particular, talked too much, he showed her the study results, which stated: "Men use about 15,000 words per day, but women use 30,000."
His wife thought awhile, then finally she said to her husband, "That's because we have to repeat everything we say."
The husband said, "What?"
1) Keynote Speaker for ASAP Software Conference in Orlando, FL on Oct 21; 400 expected
2) Dyanmic Speaking and Listening Skills workshop for Natl. Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) at their Leadership Institute, Washington DC on Nov 2
LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, an international/Celebrity Cruise Lines speaker,
training consultant, psychotherapist, syndicated writer, and author of the
upcoming, Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress,
Burnout & Depression. Mark, recently interviewed by BBC Radio, has a
www.stressdoc.com -- cited as workplace
resource in a National Public Radio feature. As AOL's "Online Psychohumorist"
™, Mark runs his weekly Shrink Rap and Group Chat. Email for his monthly
newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.For more info on the Doc's
"Practice Safe Stress" programs, email email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2003
Shrink Rap Productions