Recently I provided a public speaking class for a program within Terra Linda High School focused on “developing socially responsible, ecologically literate, and economically aware leaders for the next generation.”
The experience proved to be a turning point in my own leadership path.
It had been several years since I worked with youngsters and my sense was that approaching a group of thirty 14- and 15-year-old activists with my usual measured tones wasn’t going to reach them where they lived. So after a couple of minutes attuning with breath and eyes and intro words, I found myself going somewhat wild.
I was on my knees and in their eyes, urging them to attune eye-to-eye with their audiences, really seeing their listeners so they feel seen as the key to getting a message across.
Throwing caution to the wind, I streamed consciousness for 15 minutes, making sure to rave at least one sentence into each pair of eyes.
I imagined that this is how it might have felt to be an old timey fire and brimstone preacher. I had their rapt attention and enjoyed the edge I was surfing.
While in full passion I found myself still able to maintain awareness that every word coming through me was personally and tenderly directed at a human being who I was seeing in a way that made them feel seen. I took micro-second pauses when moving from one student to another so that I was never talking while my head was moving. I wasn’t pre-thinking my words, just flowing.
I would demand of a student, “What am I doing that is working?” and then ask that question directly of another and another. They couldn’t help but recognize that I was being always and only with one of them at a time with a soft gaze of kind regard while coming from a place of natural connection without trying to connect. My lifelong body of teaching was arising in a kinetic flow new to me. My words were not getting in the way of my teaching. Finally!
After a dyad exercise in silence and another with one-minute Relational Presence turns we had time for 8 volunteers to get up front for 2-minute turns. There were tears, expressions of love for classmates, reverence for life, sadness for inauthentic behavior, desire to connect better, recognition of anxiety up front while moving courageously through it…. Just the kind of sentiments that show up at “adult” Speaking Circles. And the listeners even got essence appreciations right!
They want me back and I treasure the opportunity to return as often as they can tolerate me.
The best part is that the experience has carried over to Speaking Circles where in my openings I’ve become the controlled wild man, minimizing the “measured tones” while modeling and naming the synergy of passion and presence, which I see clearly now as a key to effective leadership transmission. As you might imagine, this has opened more space at Circles for participants to “ride the rapids” while remaining presence.
May your journey as a speaker be a passionate one!