We’ve talked before about setting an outcome for your message — that’s what makes your message measurable. It also helps you shape your content.
But when you talk to others about your ideas, what should your goal for delivery be? What will help you shape how you get your ideas across?
There’s obviously a huge range of situations where we need to talk about our ideas. Sometimes it’s conversational, like a hallway conversation at a conference or at a networking event. Sometimes it’s high stakes, like at a pitch or an important meeting with your boss or colleagues. Sometimes it’s “official” — like when you’re giving a presentation, whether as a team member, breakout session speaker (a Freenoter!), or keynoter.
In each of those cases you have to “perform,” in the sense that you have to “execute the action” of talking about your ideas. At its greatest, a performance of that kind goes well beyond just the doing of the thing. It becomes something more. It becomes the “fulfillment of a promise.”
But you know what? That’s a really, really high bar to meet, and rightly so. A great performance requires intention and rehearsal to the point where you can bring in all the other things that make that performance truly great. Emotion. Intention. Passion. Where you don’t just accomplish your “action” in the form of the outcome you want, the very act of you giving it becomes something people remember.
That kind of commitment, though, is often hard, if not impossible, to accomplish if you have a life (and business) outside of talking about your ideas.
And sometimes? It’s just too much. I’m pretty sure I don’t want anyone to “perform” their average hallway conversation. I know those people. You do, too. If you’re anything like me, you don’t like those people. You don’t like them because the performance starts to get in the way of something even more important: the idea at the heart of at all.
As a self-declared Defender of Ideas, that’s just not okay with me.
But if we remember that what drives action is emotion… feeling… then I think there’s another way to look at the situation.
Have you ever seen the “Rabbit–Duck Illusion“? I like to call it the “Duck Bunny.” It’s from 1892, and it looks like this.
It’s one of my favorite ways to illustrate what psychologists call “reframing.” Reframing is, at its simplest, changing what people are focused on. With the Duck Bunny, for example, you either see the duck first, or the bunny first. Both are “right,” but you can’t see one if you’re focused on the other.
Reframing is getting someone who’s focused on the duck to see the bunny instead.
Now, let’s say “performance” is the Duck. It’s definitely there. It’s definitely important.
But there’s another way to look at the same act of talking about your ideas: “expression.” Where “performance” is the execution of an action, “expression” is the “process of making known one’s thoughts or feelings.” To succeed at that you have to act (perform), but I think there’s something really powerful about focusing on the “Bunny” of expression instead.
When you focus on making sure what you think or feel is coming across, I think the “performance” — in all senses of the word — not only starts to happen on its own, it starts to happen much more naturally. You start to actually feel what you’re saying, rather than just repeat it like a robot. Even better, the benefits of showing that feeling are legion.
To support that claim, I turn to my friend, colleague, and frequent co-conspirator, Dr. Nick Morgan. In his seminal book, Give Your Speech, Change the World, he notes that “We know, thanks to the communications research of the last thirty years, what charisma is. Quite simply, it’s expressiveness.” Think about that: that mystical, almost magical quality of charisma and presence really comes down to a focus on the “bunny” of expression.
When you focus on expressing your ideas, rather than just performing them, you add that extra piece that makes both more memorable… and without nearly as much rehearsal or preparation. Please, please note that I don’t say you can do without either. If you want to be great at getting your ideas across, you need to do the work to get there. But my experience is that framing (or reframing) talking about ideas as “expression” is a way to shortcut that process and still achieve a great result.
Related fun fact (#Swipefile!): one study found that the most successful TED talks are just as successful with the sound turned off. Isn’t that amazing? They’re JUST as successful without the sound. With (non-verbal) expression only.
(Want to see my idol for expression? The incomparable Bettye Lavette. Look at how she embodies what she sings. I mean, really. She brings the song’s composers to tears. THAT’s the kind of expression that creates the “performance” we’re all looking for. She’s my hero.)
So, I’m curious: what do each of those two words — “performance” and “expression” — bring to mind for you? If you’ve been focused on performance so far, what do you think focusing on expression might do for you instead? Please, email me and let me know. I’d love to hear what switching from Duck to Bunny might do for you.When you focus on expressing your ideas, rather than just performing them, you add that extra piece that makes both more memorable. Click To Tweet
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