Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Time Like The Present

"You are not the voice in your head – you are the hearer of that voice." – Unknown

* * *

The harshest critic most people will hear comes from the voice in their own heads. It’s certainly true for actors. I could be on stage, in the midst of a performance, everything going smoothly, the audience caught up in the play, but in the back of my mind the reviews are not good. Self-judgment is sabotage. That darn voice is pointing out every tiny imperfection in my work and creating self-consciousness – which is the very definition of bad acting. “Don’t think so much,” an acting teacher once told me, “just be.” I had no idea how to do that.

This is a problem for speakers as well as actors. Actors are the canaries in the psychological coal mine. By parsing the emotional grammar of life, they can illuminate behavior in ways that might not occur otherwise. Dealing with inner demons is a case in point.

I remember when I first became aware of the split in my mind. I was young and green and needy and ambitious and neurotic. I was floundering to make my life work, every failure a cue to despair, every success containing a fatal flaw. I felt unfulfilled and frustrated, driven by the inner voice’s demands for perfection, like a dog chasing its own tail. Fulfillment was an ever-receding horizon. Success be damned, that inner critic was never satisfied.

Then, one beautiful summer morning, I was driving down the Palisades Parkway with the sunroof open, a Mozart piano concerto on the radio, and it suddenly struck me that the only thing the universe actually required of me at that moment, was that I drive along listening to the music and enjoying the sun on my face. The voice was gone. I was supremely in touch with the moment, and the experience was overwhelming. Tears streamed down my face and I realized that I could be free of the inner critic. The voice was not me, or God, or life’s imperative laying on a guilt trip – it turns out the problem was my mind.

I’ve been reading a great book called The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. He says that in order to get into the present moment, you have to be out of your mind. That is, as long as you are living in your mind, thinking, you are out of touch with the now. If you think about it, you’ll see it makes sense. Thoughts are “time-bound,” always else-when, caught up in the past or fantasizing about the future – the present moment is that infinitesimally thin space between the two. ‘The Now’ is the absence of time, therefore the experience of NOW is thoughtless. We in this culture have very few experiences of the present moment because the constant yammering of our thoughts fill every nook and cranny of our consciousness.

When we are living in the present moment, thoughtless and simply being, we are as close to enlightenment as it’s possible to be this side of the grave, says Eckhart Tolle. The “egoic” mind exists in time, and time is the enemy of the now. Joseph Campbell referred to the present moment as our only experience of the eternal. Tolle calls it the absence of time, the end of suffering and the real definition of enlightenment. In the now is where we are able to feel the experience of being.

For speakers, being is the purest communication. Emerson said “who you are being speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you’re saying.” ‘Being’ communicates by itself. Imagine the impact of Phidippides, having run from the battlefield of Marathon to deliver news of victory and peril before dying on the steps of the Parthenon. Or remember Lou Gehrig, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” delivering a statement of grace and courage. It was his being that gave the words such depth and meaning. You don’t even have to get the words right. Neil Armstrong botched his line as he stepped onto the lunar surface, but who cares?

No matter what the particular circumstances, there is always one thing that a speaker shares with his or her audience – the present moment. The experience of being human beings sharing the now creates in us the sense of unity with each other that is the purest definition of communication.

A Thought to Ponder

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." - Joseph Campbell

©2001-2003 Michael F. Landrum

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Key Thoughts

Key Thoughts

by Mike Landrum
(Updated June, 2015)
 * * *
A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an 
action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.

- Georges Bernanos, 
French Novelist & Political Writer
* * * 
Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both. 
- John Andrew Holmes

* * * 
Every time U.S.Open Champion Jordan Speith approaches a golf shot; every time tennis champion Serena Williams steps to the line to serve; every time Mets first baseman Lucas Duda comes up to the plate with his baseball bat, a key thought is at work. These thoughts are the keys that unlock an athlete's best performances. They are the final and most crucial preparation that focus the mind, steady the heart and let the desired action begin. 

There is usually a ritual that goes along with it the same number of practice swings, the same series of moves, breaths and rhythms precede the start of the golf shot, the tennis serve, the baseball pitch. These external movements and gestures accompany an internal ritual as well. Jordan Speith must visualize a successful outcome for the shot he is concentrating on, he must relax, rehearse the move in his mind, and prepare himself imaginatively for the release of all his power. It is the most important thinking an athlete does. 

All performers have a similar preparatory drill. Actors are trained to enter a scene "loaded" which means to be present and alive to the character, circumstances, action and emotions of the play. A poorly prepared actor can destroy the audience's belief in the play as sometimes happens when a stagehand wanders out into a scene. Actors must adjust their thoughts and feelings in favor of those of the character they are playing. Imaginative thought creates real behavior. 

In 1945, Lawrence Olivier played Oedipus in Sophocles' great tragedy. At the end of the play when Oedipus discovers that he has unwittingly killed his father and married his mother, he let out a scream so horrifying that it sent shudders through the audience. His key thought for that moment came from the Russian method of trapping ermine, the white- coated animals whose fur was so highly prized that it adorned the robes of the Czars. In winter, when the ponds and rivers are frozen, the Russian hunters scatter salt on the ice. The ermine are drawn irresistibly to the salt and when they lick it their tongues stick to the ice. The hunters simply return the next morning and club the animals to death. Olivier imagined being stuck helplessly by the tongue like the Russian ermine and that was enough to create the horror of Oedipus's situation. 

What possible application can this have for speakers?  When speakers approach the lectern they should have an idea in mind of what they want to communicate and how to begin.  Sometimes the best key will be a thought of the objective of the speech, getting the first idea across, or making good eye contact with individuals in the audience.  
I'll provide one example which some of my clients have found useful. 
The late Helen Hayes, the "First Lady of the American Theatre," used to say "act with a warm heart and a cool head." This is the basis for a valuable key thought for speakers. Imagine your heart and lungs as a hot air balloon, swelling and rising as they fill with warmth, not to lift you off the ground, but simply to become the center of your being. Let your arms and shoulders drop naturally to your sides and get in touch with this "high- hearted"sensation.
Now, think of your mind, calm and tranquil, peering out of your skull, cool and solid as an ancient Greek temple. Let your head settle down in front of the column of your neck so that your eyes are level to the horizon. (Yes, that's another thing to be aware of - your spine connects to your skull behind your face, at about the same level as your eyes.)
This image, this dual key thought, can serve you in several ways. 

Your heart, your chest should be high, lifted from within, which lets your shoulder muscles relax and drop. This is a much more flexible and open stance than a military erectness imposed by the shoulders and rigid outer muscles. 
Above this high- chested, expansive torso, floats your head, serene and cool, with a level gaze. Just allowing your head to adopt this position will encourage your mind to take on a similar attitude. You will be standing at your full height, leading with your heart - open, vulnerable and strong. You'll be willing to drop your shoulders, arms and hands in a natural way. Your head and neck will float above, cool, level and alert. 

This is a perfect posture for speaking. Your lungs will be able to gather their full capacity of air. By letting the shoulders drop naturally, the diaphragm will take on its rightful role as the driver of your voice, assisted by the abdominal muscles. With a level head, the larynx or voice box will be in its optimum position between the resonating chambers of the chest and face. 

The biggest payoff may be the way this posture and these ideas make you and your audience feel. The word 'courageous' comes from the French root "cour" or heart. When you lead with your heart you feel both more and less vulnerable. This is a good definition of courage. It would be hard to find an attitude that is more attractive to audiences than a confident, level- eyed fearlessness. 

Of course, there are countless other key thoughts with which to begin a presentation, and you will surely find your own way. The chief message in this bit of coaching is to create your key thoughts intentionally. Let it become a habit with you, a ritual to begin every speech. As Earl Nightingale said, "we are what we think about, having become what we thought."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On My Way To Vietnam

Here I tell three true anecdotes from nearly fifty years ago . . . a safe enough distance to find them amusing. I hope you do too!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Getting started over parental predictions

Did your parent influence your choice of a career? I didn't think so, and yet . . .
It's a good strategy to tell a personal story. It can build rapport and human understanding. What's your story?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Do you hide behind your "kangaroo arms?" No need to. Just get into the habit of dropping your guard and using open, generous gestures. Practice a little - you'll see!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tip for Executive Speakers #101 Click for video tip!

Listen Generously - Too many speakers would agree with what Adlai Stevenson once told an audience of unruly hecklers on the campaign trail in 1952: "It's my job to speak, it's your job to listen. If you finish your job before I finish mine, could you please leave quietly!" No wonder he lost.

While we may be speakers, it's not our only job. We need to receive as well as transmit, to listen before and as we speak. Remember, a successful speech is a conversation, amplified. Next tip - next week!