Don’t we often struggle to find just the right words to say when we’re trying to communicate with someone? But, real communication goes so far beyond saying the “right words.”
In 2008, I was performing in Beijing during the Olympics. While I was there, I got to hear Madeline Manning Mims speak. Madeline, who broke the world record in the 800 meters in 1968, told the following powerful story.
During the 1968 Games, Madeline was racing against a woman from an Eastern Bloc nation. When Madeline broke the ribbon, she looked around to see where the woman placed in the race. She was nowhere to be found. Madeline discovered the woman had been warned that she and her family would face great penalties if she didn’t return with a gold medal, so the woman had peeled off the track before reaching the finish line and ran to the highest point of the stadium. She was going to throw herself off the stadium wall. Thankfully, someone found her and brought her back down.
The next day as Madeline was heading to the U.S. team bus, she passed by the woman. She felt a strong desire to connect with her, so she told her teammates she’d catch the next bus. As Madeline returned to the woman, it dawned on her that she didn’t know a single word in the woman’s language, and it was very unlikely that the woman knew any English. So, Madeline just walked up to the woman and smiled.
Later, Madeline read that the woman had been institutionalized, not speaking a word for years. After she was released, Madeline was able to visit her. The woman ran up to Madeline and gave her a big hug. The woman told Madeline that her road to recovery had begun when she broke her silence and said, “Madeline came back.”
So, the next time you find yourself searching for that perfect word, remember the power of the non-verbal. Lives can be changed with a smile.
Tales from the Field
After our workshop with Graceworks, we put our training into practice with an interview for an audience of 150 people for a huge project where we were the last of three firms to present.
On our eight-person team, only two of us, plus our marketing director, had been through the workshop. The question was, “Should we go for it?” We made the decision to jump in with both feet.
At the workshop, we learned to be ourselves, to speak with personal, positive passion, and to help our listeners throughout the presentation. So, we took a few risks and stepped out of our comfort zones. We created fun graphics, including a picture of MVP Stephen Curry. We also committed to being big and bold – I even did a “squat thrust” to show them my training prep for surfing.
Our “ugly rehearsal” was definitely as ugly and as incomplete as you could get, and people were a little worried, but my final encouragement to the team was, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to say. Just be sure to talk with them, be passionate about what you’re saying, and don’t look at your slides.”
Our team went all out. When we were done, the audience members were literally pouring out of their seats to thank us for such a great presentation:
“Wow! You really had GREAT EYE CONTACT!”
“You were so HUMAN.”
“That was THE BEST interview! THANK YOU.”
The developers told us we blew the other interviewees out of the water and that they had never seen a presentation like it before.
We had a great time, and more importantly, the audience had a great time.
No more boring presentations for us! Ever!
Roger Long, Associate
San Francisco, CA
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