Our greatest truthtellers

Your body knows a lot. It knows when you’re feeling out of your depth, when you’re under-prepared, when you’re worried, when you’re excited. Sometimes it knows before you do.


Have you ever felt a tight throat, a racing heart, and not been quite sure why? Then you open your calendar and realize your day is packed, or you forgot to arrange the carpool, or, oh yeah, the boss wants you to sit down with her this afternoon.  Your physical self is working overtime to keep you up to date, giving you the chemicals you need to function.


What does your body want you to know? What messages does it send you?

I have too much to say!

Marissa writes: I give quarterly reports to the board of the organization I work for. I only have ten minutes to recap everything, and I feel like I’m talking faster and faster to get it all in. What can I do to feel like I’m giving an effective update?

Marissa, we get this question a lot! You’re in good company.


We have a content bias. Like Marissa, we feel like we have to get it all in, even though our time is limited. Couple things to remember: even if you could fit it all in, your audience couldn’t remember it all. Your job is to curate your message so that the board (in this case) gets the main message you want to convey, and you are supporting that message in several ways: examples, stories, data.


One of the problems we tend to run into is that we’re so in the weeds with our work that it’s hard to see the broader sweep. Get that perspective—part of the job of periodic updates is to highlight the momentum and arc of our work, not the minutiae. This presentation is an opportunity to give the news anchor version of what’s going on, not the long-form embedded journalist answer.

If you’re here, be here.

It’s a funny thing. Most of us know that when we’re engaged, time passes more quickly. We’re in flow, so we’re not watching the clock, so we’re surprised when we look up and see that an hour has passed.What we don’t quite always manage to implement is our own control over this phenomenon. We moan and complain about something we have to do, firmly setting the default intention that we just want to get through it. That really determines our experience; it is almost impossible to see past the elements we thought would be annoying or arduous or boring to experience what might be different or educational. When we hang onto the default intention, we are deciding that we will be bored and annoyed.


Not to be all Pollyanna or whatever, but if you know you have to do something, you may as well find a deliberate positive intention. If you have to write a report because the colleague who was supposed to do it went home sick, you can be irritated, take longer, and do a worse job, or you can look for something, no matter how small, to make it worth your while.


The great news is that we have opportunities to practice setting these intentions every day. What’s the thing you have to do that puts you in a bad mood? What can you do to find some measure of deliberate, positive intention in that task? For me, I really hate all the paperwork that comes along with my job. Contracts, invoices, expense reports…just knowing that I have those kinds of items on my to-do list weighs down my day. There’s something about the detail-oriented nature of those tasks that just makes me grumpy.


I have to practice setting a positive intention on paperwork day. I have to change my inner monologue from “uggggh, why do I have to do this it’s so stupid I hate this I’m irritated at myself for still being annoyed by this after all these years; I just want to get it over with so I can do something else” to something more conducive to actually getting the work done.


Here’s what I’m trying: “It’s time to send out contracts and invoices and expense reports. This is a chance for me to be as intentional in the logistical part of our work as I am in our coaching. Let me see if I can find some cool ways to integrate this part of our work into the rest of it.”  This is the kind of challenge I need—it takes the task out of the mundane and elevates it to be a crucial part of how we interact with clients.

Red herrings.

I love mystery novels. There’s something about falling into the story and then being surprised at how it twists and turns that makes a mystery the ultimate relaxing read for me.


Recently though, reading a book by an author I usually enjoy, I found myself frustrated by just these same twists and turns. The plot involved a the murder of a millionaire, his dying sister, artwork stolen by the Nazis, several instances of infidelity, a will, intercontinental thievery, architecture, a old man and his even older father and their obsession with World War II, a museum…that’s not even everything this book asked me to contend with.  And then finally, there was no satisfactory resolution. The murderer did it to frame her brother (spoiler.)


A red herring is a plot device a writer uses to distract the reader from the real machinations. They’re the stock-in-trade of a mystery writer. In this case, though, the writer’s red herrings ran away with her. The most interesting parts of her book had nothing to do with the story she had decided to tell.


This happens to public speakers a lot. Our red herrings sneak into our material, intrigue our audiences, and are never heard from again. They’re wondering “when is she going to tie up the loose end of the story about the elephant?” or “how does that graph relate to the gist of all this?”


Red herrings don’t belong in your talk. If you bring it up, it’s gotta be relevant.

Losing our way.

Put this in the “Everything is a metaphor for everything else” category:


We all have times in our lives when we don’t know what’s next. Something we counted on is gone, a person or a place or a job. Times of transition are often like this—“I knew what to expect in the last phase; I don’t know what’s next.”


The micro version of this is what happens when we forget what we want to say next in a presentation or a speech. We were on solid ground, and then it feels like we’ve walked off the edge of a cliff. Unmoored.


In both situations, we need to look for our intention. Why were we here in the first place? What can we hold onto that pulls us back to who we are and what we want to achieve?