Throwing the Javelin

London Olympics Athletics Women

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Over the past few weeks I have been part of an experiment. A learning experiment. Seth Godin, one of the coolest people on the planet recently announced a new way of learning: Learning Together.

Beyond creative, the Krypton Community College (with its cool narwhal mascot) is an experience in learning with other people. The first class was centered on help to move past (or dance with) our fears, pick ourselves, and move projects forward. Part of an early assignment included interviewing people who brought something into the world and how fear played a role in the process.

The thought of asking pretty amazing and accomplished people about fear was scary in itself.

What if these folks didn’t really experience fear?

Maybe fear is just what the rest of us feel.

Was that what sets them apart in their success?

Maybe that is why I am not as successful.

I pressed on and scheduled an interview anyway (dancing with my own fear). When the questions moved away from the details of what this person had accomplished to how they felt and dealt with any fears that were part of the process, an amazing story emerged.

I learned that this person had to give a talk on a technical topic to hundreds of experts in this field. This person was not a technical expert on the subject at hand, but was part of trying to raise awareness, address challenges, offer solutions, and help increase funding for this issue.

Speaking to this crowd did bring fear (which surprised me because they are so confident). Fear of not being credible, or coming across in a way that would not acknowledge the depth of knowledge in the room and limit the receptivity to these new ideas.

So, they called their dad for advice.  I will let them tell the rest in their own words:

My dad’s stellar advice on how to handle presenting information to a group of providers who were twice my age and real experts in the issue was to start off my presentation by joking that I was actually going to teach them how to throw the javelin.

It worked like a charm. I started to get into the stance, told them I was intimidated by their knowledge and expertise and recognized they knew the field much better than I did. So, I said that I’d changed up my plan for the presentation and was teaching javelin instead since I was the expert in that.

They all laughed, and were super supportive when I actually got into the real presentation. I also felt way more comfortable. And, throughout our time together a number of them became great thought partners/mentors/teachers and took me under their wing.

I think acknowledging my fears, owning them, and accepting them really helped start our work off on the right foot, and rather than feeling skeptical the group wanted to help me and later felt more comfortable sharing their fears about the work we were doing.

Great advice for any of us wrestling with our next project, idea, task, or talk.

Acknowledge the fear.

Own the fear.

Accept the fear.

And begin by Throwing the Javelin.

What is in your pocket?

I was at a conference the other day and while approaching a table at dinner, someone called out,

“What is in your pocket?”

The rest of the table looked puzzled as I reached into my pocket, but my pocket was empty that day.

“Sadly nothing today, I guess they are getting older.”

I had to take a seat and explain.  Years ago, my middle daughter started a tradition when I would leave the house.  She would take some toy, rock, or piece of jewelry and give to me to have in my pocket that day.  It wasn’t everyday.  It typically centered around my presentation days.  (Maybe it was because I was more dressed up, or in fact more stressed out on those days.)

This handing me a toy became a dramatic emotional filled moment for her.

“Daddy, take this with you so you won’t forget me.”

“Daddy, this is for you today so you will remember me.”

Before one event, I was up in the front of the room making sure everything was ready to present.  I was nervous, it was a large group.  To help calm my nerves, I reached in my pocket.  I pulled out a little plastic animal and I was suddenly reminded that there was this little girl who loved me and wanted to be remembered today. The nerves faded, and the presentation went forward.

The session ended, and we had a question and answer time.  Various questions came, but there was one hand that popped up at the end.  I knew something was up by the strange smile on the person’s face.  At first, I thought they were going to try to stump me with a question.

“One final question…what is in your pocket?”

Apparently they had seen me gripping this little toy before the session.  I showed the group, and explained the story.  Much to my surprise, a few weeks later at the end of another presentation, another hand went up.

“What is in your pocket?”

The word had spread, and for most of those days, my daughter had in fact given me something for my pocket.  It wasn’t every time, but enough to build a reputation.  As she grew, the tradition began to fade.  Then one day, while hastily getting ready to leave one morning, my youngest game up for the typical kiss/hug combination before I raced to the car. She paused for just a moment.

“Daddy, this is for you today.  So you won’t forget me.”

What reminder do you need today?  What small reminder that you are loved and are not alone in this journey would brighten your day?  Go ahead and put it in your pocket today.  It is amazing how your perspective changes when you reach in that pocket.

I often wonder if they realize how much that small token helped me on those stressed filled days.  Sometimes the simplest reminder bring perspective back.

My daughters were right.  I didn’t forget them.

Be More Helpful Than a Handout

One of the best parts of presenting and teaching is reading the evaluations.  If you listen to what is said, the insight and suggestions from the participants can help refine both the content and the style.  It is not always positive, but learning from feedback can help you become great.

The other day, I read the best comment ever.

“Carl is more helpful than handouts.” 

Maybe that should always be our goal.  If we are not “more helpful” why are we even there?  Wouldn’t the handouts be enough?

Here are a few tips:

1.  Be Authentic: Be yourself.  You are not perfect and that is okay.  Admit the areas that you are still wrestling with.  If you are talking about leadership, describe a time you made a mistake, what you learned, and how you recovered.

2.  Use Stories:  Facts, data, and bullets on slides are one thing, but linking the information together through a story engages the listener to apply the information in a real world situation.  Stories move us, inspire us, and motivate us.

3.  Be More Helpful Than a Handout:  Don’t read your PowerPoint or other materials.  Know your stuff, engage your audience, and leave them better informed, better able to address the issues at hand, and perhaps even a little inspired.

Good luck out there, you can do it.