Find the Essence of Your Idea and Fully Embody It
Be a vessel for your message:
When you’re on the stage it’s an opportunity to perform. The people aren’t there to see Mozart. They’re not there to see Jenny. They’re there to see an idea and to see our idea articulated in its fullest essence. When I get on stage and I write down a poem, whether it’s a love poem for my wife or it’s a poem for a community that I’m working with, my number one goal is to embody the poem not to be Mozart saying a poem, but to be the poem where Mozart is actually a vehicle to it, a vessel even.
One of the ways that I go about doing it is actually listening to what the voice says in the poem. I listen very closely after I write something and I listen to say, “Okay, well is this a powerful poem or is this a piece of text that maybe needs to be said softly?” From there, I follow the lead of the writing as opposed to making the writing follow me.
By articulating the essence of the idea what’s exciting about that is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter who you are. If people connect with the ideal they’ll connect with the idea and then you’re just the by-product, which is also really exciting.
On research and emotion:
The first thing that I do is a lot of research. I do a whole lot of research, for example, I did a poem about Martin Luther King. It was about 5 minutes long and I spent about 30 hours going over documentaries, reading his biography, finding out what his favorite food was, finding out what he liked to do on the side, all to hopefully articulate a vision of Martin Luther King that went away from the standard, “I have a dream,” speech and dug deeply into who he was as a person and man.
The first thing that I would say is that folks really have to do their research. The letting go also requires you to do the work. The letting go doesn’t mean to just be laissez-faire, but it actually means that you need to take this very seriously. The next thing that I would recommend folks to do who really want to step into the work is to think about the emotion first.
Don’t think about the content. Think about what emotion you want to articulate when you’re sharing your message.
Think about what emotion you want to convey and what it would mean for you to convey that emotion. Who would you have to be to convey that emotion? Once you know who you would have to be to convey that emotion it’ll all come out after you’ve done your research and after you’ve meditated and after you’ve prepared yourself to let go on stage.
One of the most important emotions, which isn’t really an emotion, is intimacy. When I share poems on stages and when I engage people in conversations whether they’re a funder or someone that I’m working within the community, my number one goal is to cultivate intimacy.
I’m not trying to be smarter than them. I’m not trying to prove a point. I want them to know that we’re on the same page, that we’re on this journey together, what Martin Luther King calls the beloved community, that I am because you are and that by cultivating that and by conveying this emotion of really wanting to be a part of your life, that people will also then consider, “Wow, he wants to be a part of my life. Maybe I can also make this ideal a part of my life as well.”
I’ve found that when I attempt to convey intimacy, when I attempt to convey the conviction of whatever ideal it is that’s when people really begin to be engaged in my work and other work that I might share with other people.
Just one idea:
I can guarantee you that if you look at an old speech you’re sharing multiple ideals in a conversation, multiple ideals in a speech, in a keynote, in a performance. It’s because we’re excited and it’s because we’re thrilled. What I would like to remind people is just share one idea. Be clear. Don’t be comprehensive. Be clear.
Your desire to be comprehensive is because you’re a subject matter expert, but you don’t need to be comprehensive. What you need to be is clear because once you have one clear, comprehensive message, everything flows from it. All of a sudden all the ideas come into place.
It’s something that makes a lot of us uncomfortable. It’s because all of a sudden we have to be vulnerable. All of a sudden you have to consider, “Well, what about this? What about that? What about this?” We have to realize that if we’re clear, if we articulate one perfect idea, that we change lives, but if we articulate a few so-so ideas, we get so-so results.
That’s why I always recommend to people don’t be comprehensive. Be clear. The person that’s never heard about your topic isn’t looking for an encyclopedia article about what you’re writing about. They just want one idea that they can take home.
Emotion and chaos:
Prepare to be surprised by the emotion that you’ll feel. That goes back to letting go from the beginning. That’s also how you know if you speak with passion. All my friends that are speakers or are performance poets often tell me that when they get on that big stage with the bright lights, after they prepare, something takes over them.
All of a sudden they are pushed and pulled by their emotions and what they were meant to say gets so much better. You have to prepare yourself for that. You have to be ready to be amazed by motion, by emotion, and by the emotion generated by the audience, by the folks that are listening to and resonating with your work.
The boring conversations, the boring speeches, is when everyone knows what’s going to happen. What’s exciting about passionate speaking, what’s exciting about confident speaking is that we prepare, but we also prepare ourselves for the chaos and the beauty of uncertainty. That’s really where the magic happens. No one goes to see a prepared speech. People go to see prepared speeches that are prepared for chaos.
The power of a metaphor:
Metaphor is when you compare something to something. The heart is a rock. The heart is a rose or something like that. What’s really powerful about performance poetry is that you’ll see metaphors littered throughout and the reason why we resonate with it – linguists talk about this a lot – is because we are compelled by metaphor.
Metaphor reminds us of transformation and so when you hear a poet they’re talking about ordinary things and an extraordinary way. Metaphors can happen anywhere. In fact, I would recommend that if someone’s listening to this and they’re not a poet, they’re not compelled by literary works, that they should actually have at least one metaphor in their arsenal.
The way you come up with a metaphor is you think about one object and then you think about another object and the you don’t say like because like is a simile. It feels weak because when I say, “She’s like my mom. She’s like a car,” that has a little something in it, but when you say, “This is this,” it has extraordinary power.
What would happen if you blocked speeches through emotion, through action? That’s another technique that I use throughout my poetry. I’ll say, “This is the part where I really want to compel people with, perhaps, a sad story. This is the part where I want to compel people with conviction, calls to action, fast.”
Once you block it in by actions, block it in through emotions, that’s a powerful way to create a compelling argument that doesn’t follow the standard three paragraphs or five-sentence paragraphs that we learned in school. That’s also more compelling. We’re more compelled by emotion. We’re more compelled when people are speaking through emotion as opposed to speaking through concept.
What does it mean to speak like a pro?
To speak like a pro means to articulate the message that is the core of who I am and make sure that it’s well prepared.
Do your research. I’m a big advocate of research. Go on iTunes right now and go listen to some Moth Podcasts and find some very compelling ones.
Meditate. Meditation is extremely important because it allows you to speak with clarity and it also allows you to think with clarity. Like I said before, too often passionate, articulate, comprehensive speakers get on stage and they share multiple ideas.
Just before I get on stage I have a ritual.What I do is I take a deep breath in for four seconds and then I exhale for six. That’s really been helpful to me in terms of calming me down and I do it as often as I can because no matter how many presentations I do I’m still nervous. I’m still anxious. That’s normal and it’s really just directing those butterflies so they can fly in one formation.