Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Is It In You?
April 16, 2009

I have been studying, or I should say using, Practical Philosophy for about 13 years. I take these classes at the School of Practical Philosophy and Meditation in NYC and for a few years now I have had the honor of teaching one of the nightly introductory classes aptly named Philosophy Works. Last night was the first class of the term, and one of the questions on the table was: where is Wisdom? The purpose of the class is to find out in experience, via our daily lives, if the words of the wise throughout the ages are true and can be of use to us. So, Plato says in Laws, that there are four primary human virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice and, of these, only Wisdom is innate. The others have to be learned. Now in my experience I believe Wisdom is innate. I believe finding Wisdom is much more a question of removing the barriers to it within our selves then starting with the premise that it is something we lack. When we eliminate things like judgment, expectations, criticisms, worry, self-doubt or fear then we find that we are brighter, happier, more efficient, smarter, tolerant and peaceful; and those seem to be qualities of Wisdom. Stripping away all these barriers leaves us with a more natural us, real us, true us, authentic us. The whole point of this blog is to encourage and possibly show some ways that we can discover and speak with our authentic voice.

The question of where is Wisdom got me wondering whether the same is true for communication? Is there an innate ability to communicate and communicate well? Could one of the benefits of discovering a more authentic us be more natural communication?

As I thought about it more, those who present for a living or have ever had to develop a presentation go through a kind of internal search. From the abundance of brainstorming to the conscious precision of words spoken, ideas communicated and images displayed the presenter removes the unnecessary. Whatever gets in the way of the message is removed. That IS the same process as discovering ones authentic voice.

This is not to discount learning techniques and tools for better communication and presentation design. However,  I encourage all speakers to learn and use technique as a means to uncovering your authentic voice, recogninzing it and feeling comfortbale with it. So, like Practical Philosophy I say we test this out and see for ourselves. Let’s work toward being our selves in front of an audience and discover if good communication is also innate.

Moment of Zen Tip (props to the Daily Show):

The less YOU are on the stage the better.

(Think about it)


Don’t Be That Guy
April 9, 2009


What makes someone a good speaker? For anyone who presents for a living that question is THE question. It’s a huge topic with endless advice, answers and examples (of what to and not to do). There is, however, a good place to start.

I was day dreaming the other day about watching someone on trial and all that you can learn from seeing someone else in action. I was also, at the time, thinking about how I am convinced nobody in positions of great authority and power in this country are in those positions because they know more than anybody else. I don’t know how they got there, but there they are. For a rookie presenter, no matter what field they are in, they are encouraged to watch others and learn. Usually, that means watch and learn what TO do, but rarely are they also told to look out for what NOT to do. But does the rookie know this? So the daydream continued and in the dream I saw someone deliver a great summation. It was entertaining, moving, well thought out and simple. In the dream I thought wow how can I do that? How can I be THAT GUY? And that is when I woke up.

All too often rookie presenters mistake the persona of the person they are watching for the skill or technique. So they embark on becoming a certain persona instead of understanding the skill set and making it their own.

For me the first barrier that goes up when I am talking to someone, especially in a presentation scenario, is the feeling that the speakers are not being themselves. Like Holden Caufield says, “that guy is such a phony”. The presenter becomes the focus, not the idea. It is a pet peeve of mine when I am out and some one says, “I am so drunk” It annoys me to no end because instead of just enjoying how you feel at the moment, you call attention to it.  Presenters who are pretending to be someone are like bad actors that make the audience more aware of being in a theater watching, then creating the illusion of eaves dropping in on someone’s conversation or being in the living room itself.

It happens in writing as well. I happen to think my wife is a great writer, and she knows I would tell her if I did not like something. When I first read something she wrote, other than her telling me she wrote it, the women I know was nowhere to be found. She disappeared, but all her writing has a similar voice; HER voice.  As part of some classes she takes she needs to read and critique other peoples work so I hear them sometimes. Many of them are hard to get through because immediately they sound like someone trying to be a writer. It is a little embarrassing to listen to, like reading an old journal entry or poem you wrote when you were 13. Once the person becomes the focus then for me it’s over and that only happens when you try and be someone else.

My first piece of advice to a rookie would be, don’t be THAT GUY. You need to find your voice. I volunteer teach Practical Philosophy classes and I remember seeing another teacher who got more students and was quieter than me and moved slower and did everything softer. One term I tried to be him and my class numbers dropped to 1. I had 1 student. I don’t do that anymore. I talk loud, fast and get pretty energized.  You should watch others, seek advice and learn but all of that has to be made your own. I also think it takes the pressure off ofcomparing yourself to others. There is no comparison, you can both do the right thing and it should be totally different because you both are different.

Beautiful Presentations
February 5, 2009

chessWhen we think about design in the broadest sense it encourages us to look for inspiration all around us. Architecture is no exception. I recently read Paul Goldberg’s article in the New Yorker, Center Stage, about the redesign of Lincoln Center and Alice Tully Hall. A quick aside, the New Yorker contributors are excellent at using story to make any subject more captivating.  There was one line that got me thinking,

“Architects sometimes talk of design elements as “moves,” as if they were playing a game of chess…”

First, we should be thinking about our presentations in terms of design. As far as I am concerned our presentations are works of art. Architects design a space thinking about how people will walk around in it, how they will feel, how they will interact with different elements, and as presenters we should be taking the same view. Our words are creating a structure which the audience will live in for the duration of the talk. We want them to feel welcomed and comfortable, not unsettled and dying to get out of there. We need to see the whole of process of developing a presentation through the lens of design. There is beauty in reducing an idea to its core. The search for perfect simplicity, as we keep taking away the unnecessary is also an aesthetic. Then with the essence of our message we begin to build, move by move, word by word, image by image, a cathedral where the audience will come and pay homage to our idea. All the while keeping in mind how will audiences like being in this space we have created. It is not my intention to be over the top with the cathedral image, but as presenters we are there to give the audience something they will remember, act on and believe. We want the audience hanging on our every word like it is gospel.

Design is not about putting a nice shell on our idea and attracting people with the glitter. Real design starts with the idea and protects it, throughout the process, from distractions so the audience can receive it in as pure a form as possible.

We are “how” we do.
January 21, 2009


What I am and what I do are different things. However, what I am and how I do (what I do) are not. How we do is a direct reflection of who we are; how we approach work projects, how we meet someone new, how we deal with conflict, how we manage change, how we act as husbands, wives, brothers sisters and friends. How we do all of this is a reflection of who we are. I am not just my job or my various relationships but I am the energy I give, the attention I direct and the love I project. Each area of our lives deserves to be nourished by this understanding. All true philosophies and spiritual paths direct us towards unity of thought, word and deed so that “how” we do reflects the highest us.

Speech is creative, not only in the artistic sense, in that it creates actions, emotions and thoughts. It can create worlds within our minds, worlds that we live in worlds that are positive or negative. Speech can raise a nation and topple a civilization. The “how” brings us right up next to who we are. It mirrors our thoughts, hidden intentions, desires, weaknesses, strengths, emotions, intelligence, love, kindness; you cannot speak and hide. The spoken word betrays our inner world.

Speech can be meaningful in all situations. It is not necessarily the content. Best friends can speak of the most trivial things but the authenticity is apparent. What matters is the authenticity of the moment. The search for authentic communication is no different than the search for your Self. Find your Self and you can not help but be authentic. Find your authentic voice and you have found your Self.

Authentic speech can lead us to our Self and the everyday world can lead us to authentic speech. The clues are everywhere, the stories of our time are waiting to be heard, the beauty of design is waiting to be seen, the language of emotion is waiting to be felt. Listen, look and feel and speak your way to your own heart and the hearts of others.