Speech number 6
This project teaches you how to widen your range of vocal variety. The goal is to use volume, pitch, rate, add meaning and interest, pauses. Personally the biggest challenge was that I already tend to get good feedback in terms of vocal variety but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try things that would normally make me feel a bit self-conscious.
- Choose a topic for your speech that you are passionate about. If you have strong emotions you will find it easier to play with volume, rate or pitch.
- Meet with your mentor or a friend to practice your speech. Even if you haven’t memorized it completely, a second opinion will be very useful in terms of the words or phrases you should lengthen, shorten, or play with. My mentor’s feedback was invaluable in this sense. He gave specific advice on HOW to say certain sections and when to add silence for dramatic purposes.
- If you have trouble memorizing your speech, divide and you shall conquer. I found that even though I lived this experience, reflected upon it for a while and wrote the speech myself, it was still hard to memorize (and thus to practice it afterwards) because I chose the words very carefully and I didn’t want to deliver my speech haphazardly (it makes me waste precious time). My strategy then was to divide the speech in sections and give them a short heading. But it had to be something specific (avoid intro, body, conclusion) such as farmer with accent, or woman and seeds, or my science experiment. I memorized this short mental map with its key words first. then I went section by section, and then I tried to link it up. When i noticed that some sections were still weak, thanks to this structure I was able to review specific segments without losing details or connectors.
- Record yourself. Whether you prefer video or just audio, the feedback you’ll get from hearing and seeing yourself will help you point out the things you like and can enhance and the things that need work. For example, I once got several feedback forms saying that sometimes I looked up too much. It wasn’t until I saw myself in a recorded practice that I realized how that looked to the audience and I managed to change it. You will also see if you sound monotonous or too fast. If you are feeling brave you could even listen to your recordings with somebody else and write down their comments.
I hope you enjoy project number 6 as much as I did and that you get some valuable tools to enhance your public speaking skills. Below you will find the speech I wrote for this project.
Mr/Madam TM, fellow TM’s and guests,
A few weeks ago I went to Norway to work as a volunteer interpreter for an international movement called La Via Campesina. They fight for food sovereignty and for the right of peasant farmers to produce, multiply and exchange their own seeds for free.
As part of the activities, we went to visit an ecological goat farm. Let me show you a picture of the baby goats I saw. They were so cute! You may be wondering what seeds have to do with goats, and this is what the farmer told us in a very think Norwegian accent:
“We produce about 40,000 liters of goat milk a year. If the milk is good quality, we sell it at 8 KR a liter and we set some aside to make excellent quality cheese. If the milk is not so good, we can only sell it for 4 KR a liter and we don’t even bother trying to make cheese.” As you can see, if the quality of the milk is not right, they only get half their income for the same amount of work in an entire year.
The farmer then said that in order to produce good milk the goats needed to be healthy. He said that if they feed them mostly grass organically produced by them their goats almost never get sick and they get good milk.
As a long-time city dweller, my knowledge of goats and seeds, I must confess, is very limited. However, this whole experience reminded me of a science experiment I did in the 2nd grade. Our teacher asked us to take a couple of beans and put them in a small jar on top of some wet cotton balls. She told us to water them every third day to keep them moist, to place them next to a window and to wait.
I remember first checking on my beans and seeing that nothing was happening day after day. But then one day I saw a tiny white sprout sticking out of one of the seeds. I was so excited I went around showing it to everyone in the house. A few days later the bud grew and it became the root. Shortly after, the seed opened in half and two tiny leaves started to unfold. After a couple more days, the seedling developed and into a tiny plant and the seed disappeared. It was time to transplant it into a pot with good dirt. From then on I watered my plant every third day and just watched it grow in amazement. It got taller and greener every day. Shortly after it needed a stick so it could wrap around and keep developing. Then one day, it started to grow flowers. The flowers transformed into a pod, the pod grew and finally the plant gave way to new seeds.
My visit to the goat farms in Norway reminded me of some very valuable lessons connected with seeds, with all seeds, but especially with my metaphorical seeds. Many great philosophers and poets have used seeds to teach us about the emergence of great potential over time. A humble kernel can grow into a huge tree that can even populate an entire forest if the conditions are right.
In one of the talks I interpreted (about food sovereignty) I heard a woman from La Via Campesina explain how peasant farmers had selected their plants for centuries, choosing those which had larger fruits or more grains, and adapting them to different soils, climates and tastes.
I really liked this idea because in life when we want to make something happen, we have to start by planting a seed. This seed can be a dream or a thought that you have to select and perhaps adapt to whatever cards life might have dealt you. Another important element, you have to make sure the conditions are right: the soil where you plant has to be full of nutrients (perhaps finding the right people to help you develop your idea, or the right partner to start a family).Then, it has to get plenty of light and air (productive thoughts, ventilation). Remember you have to water it every so often. This means that you have to write your to-do lists and get to work. And finally you have to do what my second grade teacher said with the authority of an elementary school teacher: be patient and wait.
The waiting part may sometimes be the hardest part. Sometimes we want or need things to happen quickly, and when we go and check on our seeds, we see that the soil is just there. It looks like nothing is happening underground. At this point it is tempting to get impatient and to spray your soil with chemical fertilizers to try to help things a little bit. It might even be tempting to say, oh forget about this seed, it is taking too long, and go get a “genetically improved” seed that will perhaps grow faster, but… beware. The fruit produced by a seed that was modified may not be as tasty, it may just taste like foam. It might grow faster and yield a couple more apples, but then you may not be able to use those seeds again. If you added a ton of fertilizers, your fruit may not be as safe to eat.
The most valuable lesson that I learned from the farm in the frozen mountains of Norway, is not only that baby goats are really cute and they’ll produce great milk if you feed them right, but also I learned that your own ideas, your projects, your seeds, are valuable. Be convinced of their potential.
Plant the right seeds and you can populate a forest, feed a community or even start a revolution. You have to do your job: select your seeds, sow them, wait and harvest, but it is worth it. As the American Poet Henry David Thoreau said:
“I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
Los duendes de las estadísticas de WordPress.com prepararon un informe sobre el año 2013 de este blog.
Aquí hay un extracto:
Un tren subterráneo de la ciudad de Nueva York transporta 1.200 personas. Este blog fue visto alrededor de 4.100 veces en 2013. Si fuera un tren de NY, le tomaría cerca de 3 viajes transportar tantas personas.
Dale, dale, dale,No pierdas el tino,Porque si lo pierdes,Pierdes el camino.
I came back to my Toastmasters club after being away for almost a year. I got a Master’s in Conference Interpreting, which means I did a whole lot of public speaking, speech writing and feedback sessions during that time. However, I felt a certain level of intimidation which lead me to procrastinate and put off Project 4 because everybody says that this speech is precisely when things start getting difficult. Being a skillful public speaker is no easy task and you can see how challenging it can be from your Icebreaker. So, what is it about Project 4 that makes it so challenging? In the opinion of several senior members of the club, the difficulty resides in the precise requirements you have to meet for this speech.
The main premise of this project is that words are powerful because they convey your message and influence the audience and its perception of you. That is why you have to choose and arrange your words carefully. You have to make sure every word adds value, meaning and impact to the speech. If you want to do a good job, this will take time.
How to prepare your speech.
Since I had been away for so long, I felt I needed to go back to the basics. I looked over the executive summaries and evaluations of previous speeches. I actually paid special attention to Project 2 Organize Your Speech. My master’s taught me how to analyze the structure of a speech, and to me, making sure I had a good foundation, allowed me to stay on track. I found it very useful to write down the points I wanted to make in my speech on small note cards, using one card per idea and one sentence per idea, as suggested in the Competent Communication manual. Narrowing all the things I have to say down and making them fit in 5-7 minutes and three main points can be very challenging, but the note card technique helps me make my ideas more tangible, and since I can grab them and place them where I want, it’s also a good way to visualize the outline of your speech before you get to writing.
The next thing I did, was to actually write the objectives of this project on a separate set of note cards. This was even more helpful to me that making a list on a piece of paper because I could constantly be referring to them in a three-dimensional sort of way. If you constantly check your objectives you can be sure you won’t leave any out and you won’t get side-tracked.
- Select the right words and sentence structure to communicate your ideas clearly, accurately and vividly.
- Use rhetorical deices to enhance and emphasize ideas (I also wrote definitions and examples of rhetorical devices on my cards: simile, metaphor, alliteration and triads.)
- Eliminate jargon and unnecessary words. Use correct grammar (objective achieved thanks to my mentor)
- 5-7 minutes (around 900 words)
The swans in the booth
August 1519. Two worlds collide: Old Spain versus Ancient Mexico; Hernán Cortés and Xicotencatl face each other, in a moment that changed the course of History. And in between them stands an interpreter. Her name is La Malinche. She spoke the language of the Mayans, the Aztecs and the language of the newcomers. It was thanks to her intellect and her words that Hernán Cortés forged the alliances that brought down the mighty Aztec Empire and eventually gave rise to a new nation.
La Malinche was Cortés’s interpreter. Fellow Toastmasters, Madam Toastmaster, I am an interpreter too.
Please note that I said “interpreter” and not “translator”. This is because they are very different professions. Although they both love languages, interpreters deal with spoken language. Translators deal with written text. Interpreters work in the present allowing people to communicate here and now. Translators have the benefit of extra time. We could say that interpreting is like a live broadcast and translating like a recorded program.
Imagine you are interested in becoming an interpreter. How do you go about it?
While there isn’t just one correct way to become an interpreter, it is usually recommended to get a master’s in Conference Interpreting.
Interpreters come from many walks of life, but regardless of your background, it is important to have a very broad general knowledge and a natural curiosity. At any given time, you might need to know who Mikhail Gorbachev is, why the Mona Lisa is also called La Gioconda, and of course you have to keep on top of current affairs.
Now that we know that a potential interpreter needs to love languages, and trivia, let’s talk about the skills that you need to develop in order to become a successful professional interpreter.
First and foremost, you need to work on your listening skills. Why? Because you can only interpret what you understood, and you can only understand if you were listening carefully. You also have to have an excellent short-term memory. How could you repeat an idea in a different language if you forgot what the speaker just said?
The next skill you’ll have to develop is public speaking, very much like in Toastmasters, because after all, you are speaking to an audience. A good training program should also include a fair share of voice training to make sure we learn how to take care of our instrument.
Finally, there needs to be a strong emphasis on stress management. Several studies have confirmed that interpreting is a high-stress profession. We are often under the pressure of having to present interpreted material in split seconds so that other people can make decisions based on that information. We are constantly multitasking: listening, speaking, reading, looking words up, dealing with strong accents, and with the unknown. I’m telling you, it’s like an extreme sport much better than bungee jumping in terms of adrenaline.
Now let me show what happens once an interpreter is in the booth. Many people have asked me if we really interpret what the speaker is saying at the exact same time. Well, the truth not quite. In fact, we have to wait a few seconds for the speaker to utter a complete unit of meaning. We really can’t say a word until we know what the speaker wants to say. However, once we have our first morsel of information the true magic begins.
Imagine that you are the speaker. You get invited to give a talk about something you feel very passionate about, such as, how to honor your own “negative” emotions to better deal with them.
As your interpreter I would be sitting in my booth listening very carefully to what you say. I’d be looking for emphasis, body language, nuances and, of course, facts. Then, I would quickly analyze all this information, synthesize it and give it to the audience in a nice digestible package (in another language.) Keep in mind that as I speak, I will continue to actively listen to your message.
As you might imagine, performing all these actions at the same time is very challenging because, on top of everything, you need to sound calm. Just like swans,on the surface we will look elegant and in control of the situation, while underneath, we’ll be paddling for our dear lives.
Now that you know what interpreters are, what we do and how we do it, it is time to ask the million-dollar question:
In a world in which everyone is learning English, why would anyone need to hire an interpreter? What value does interpreting add?
In order to answer this question, I’d like you to consider precisely this idea that English is enough. It isn’t. Even if everyone in a multilingual setting spoke and understood English really well, why should we insist on this illusion of “one-language-fits all?”
If instead of forcing everyone into one language, we allow languages to be something plural, we will be establishing and honoring the social reality of difference.
The value that interpreters add is that they handle these differences and still allow you to connect. They work in the present moment to create relationships and these relationships shape society.
Since time, culture and power are now visible, interpreting helps us use languages in a truly plural social interaction that can bring about change, big change, that can even alter the course of History.
One of the reasons many people join Toastmasters is the feedback. I got very positive comments about my speech and delivery. However there are a couple of things that came up a few times in the feedback forms and that actually had appeared before:
- I didn’t include a personal anecdote that allowed the audience to know me (I almost never do)
- If the conclusion is good enough, you don’t need to say “to conclude” (This is debatable, I don’t think it is a bad idea to let your audience know what’s happening)
- I was looking for the next visual before I needed it (guilty as charged! My visual aids are a huge memory aid for me. I’ll have to work on showing them more naturally and at the right time.)
- Timing: 7:01. Although I was within the limit, this was perhaps the most challenging aspect about preparing for the speech. It took a lot of effort to get it down from its original 11 minutes to 6:50 when I was practicing. I think part of the problem was in fact the word density, and the fact that I use pauses and intonation to make sure my speech is musical and pleasant. A good way for me to practice timing and make sure I’ll get it right is to record myself with my webcam or smartphone. That way I know exactly how long I’m taking, I pinpoint difficult sections, awkward movements and pronunciation errors.
Most of the content came from my own recent experience and from all the stories I heard about La Malinche while growing up in Mexico.
Como anuncié anteriormente en la entrada sobre la memoria, para sentirse cómodo en la toma de notas es indispensable desarrollar un sistema propio de toma de notas y pulirlo de vez en cuando.
Para mí, lo primero que tuve que dominar, fue la diagonalidad y la selección de la palabra correcta que me recordara el sujeto, el verbo y el complemento. Una vez que eso estaba más o menos bajo control, me dediqué a trabajar en la separación de ideas y en los enlaces.
Como hay ya muchas entradas muy completas sobre esta modalidad y sus dificultades, en esta ocasión simplemente voy a compartir algunos de los consejos que me resultaron más útiles y mis 20 símbolos favoritos.
- Escucha mucho a los que tienen más experiencia que tú y aprovecha sus consejos. Si tienes oportunidad de enseñarle tus notas a un profesor para que te haga comentarios, adelante.
- De los comentarios de mis profesores obtuve unas cuantas enseñanzas valiosas. Por ejemplo, una profesora de La Laguna me dijo que intentara gastar más papel (lo siento por los ecologistas), es decir, que abriera mis notas y que procurara tener tres ideas separadas por página tamaño A5. Este fue una buena táctica para mí que tengo una escritura muy apretada y al obligarme a tomar notas con más aire, me resultaba mucho más fácil descifrarlas después.
- Otro comentario muy importante de otra profesora es que realmente tenía que intentar escribir con letra legible desde el principio, porque si no se vuelve un problema que solo empeora cuando el discurso gana en velocidad y complejidad. En algunas ocasiones optaba por escribir las palabras clave en mayúsculas y así eliminaba el margen de error.
- Cuando un profesor o un compañero me indicaban me había tenido algún error (por ejemplo que tuve un enlace incorrecto, o me faltó un matiz importante) intentaba preguntar siempre cómo lo hubieran anotado ellos. Normalmente mi error se debía a que no tenía un símbolo o abreviatura, o que lo que tenía no era suficientemente claro.
- En ocasiones me daba cuenta de que mis prestaciones bajaban en precisión. En este caso una profesora me comentó que tenía que elegir mejor la palabra o símbolo que debía utilizar. Esto me sirvió mucho para escribir menos y así ganar velocidad y recuperar precisión y confianza.
- En general cuando notaba que mis notas se “ensuciaban” (demasiadas palabras, ambigüedad, falta de información) me ponía a trabajar las notas con un texto. Cuando se trabaja con un texto escrito, se elimina la presión del tiempo y uno puede dedicarse realmente a ver cuál es la mejor manera de sintetizar esa información y ver cómo se puede representar de la manera más adecuada posible. Además, cuando usaba textos del periódico mataba dos pájaros de un tiro. Trabajaba la técnica (puliendo, buscando símbolos ad-hoc, etc.) y me mantenía informada.
- Por último, además del magnífico libro Note-taking in Consecutive Interpreting de Rozan, una de mis más valiosas fuentes de símbolos y abreviaturas fueron mis profesores y compañeros, porque como me dice mi mamá, mucho aprende el que mucho pregunta.
A continuación presento una lista de mis 19 símbolos favoritos con una pequeña descripción, con el correspondiente agradecimiento a los compañeros y profesores que los compartieron conmigo.
En este vídeo aparezco tomando notas y después haciendo una interpretación consecutiva.
Quiero destacar que al principio de la formación en el Máster de Interpretación de Conferencias de la Universidad de La Laguna no entendía por qué se enfatizaba tanto el desarrollo de la memoria o la toma de notas. A ratos esto parecía un martirio pero poco a poco el método fue cobrando sentido.
Los elementos que resultaron más importantes para aprender la toma de notas fueron
- La memoria
- El análisis
- La consolidación de un sistema propio de notas
En esta entrada compartiré mis reflexiones sobre la memoria y más adelante hablaré sobre los otros dos puntos.
Es muy importante desarrollar la memoria porque es una herramienta vital en nuestro trabajo. Cuando estudié en danza en la Universidad de Nuevo México, estudiamos mucho la Teoría de las inteligencias Múltiples de Howard Gardner y durante mi formación en el máster, especialmente durante la fase de memoria, tuve muy presente esta teoría por dos razones. La primera es como en la fase de desarrollo de memoria no nos dejaban apuntar ni dibujar nada, había que hacer uso de otras inteligencias y otras memorias. Según Gardner, cada persona posee las siguientes inteligencias en mayor o menor medida:
Inteligencia corporal cinestésica
Cabe preguntarse si frente a todos estos tipos de inteligencia existirán entonces varios tipos de memoria. La respuesta es que sí existen varios tipos de memoria y son los siguientes: memoria inmediata, memoria a corto plazo, memoria a largo plazo, memoria semántica, memoria episódica, memoria procedimental, o la memoria implícita. Cada tipo de memoria refleja diferentes procesos psicológicos localizados en diferentes zonas del cerebro. Además existen pruebas convincentes neuropsicológicas convincentes que muestran que la memoria lingüística se puede separar de la memoria musical, de la memoria muscular o de la memoria que nos permite reconocer formas, caras o lugares. Así que cuando trabajamos para mejorar nuestra memoria, sabemos que para recordar un discurso o un argumento, no sólo basta con recordar una definición, o un nombre, sino que tenemos que ser conscientes de que tenemos otras herramientas o memorias que nos permitirán reconocer un patrón o estructura (la lógica de un discurso), o recordar un patrón visual, musical, una cifra o un movimiento corporal. Cada una de estas herramientas puede tener un proceso mnemotécnico separado, pero todas pueden (y deben) activarse para ayudarnos a obtener el resultado final.
En mi caso, como estudié danza, estaba acostumbrada a confiar en mi memoria muscular (levantar una mano, contar con los dedos, hacer una ligera inclinación, dar un pasito hacia adelante) para codificar y luego para recordar y reformular. También como bailarina especialmente de flamenco, tuve que afinar mucho el oído para reconocer patrones (tanto musicales como de movimiento), así que no tengan miedo de cantarse una melodía en la cabeza para ayudar a recordar alguna parte del discurso.
La memoria visual no era mi fuerte, pero si conocí a varios compañeros que eran capaces de visualizar mapas mentales y nubes con palabras clave. Intenté este método pero me funcionaron más las referencias espaciales, supongo que por mis conocimientos de la teoría del movimiento de Laban. Lo que quiero enfatizar es que hay que confiar en que tenemos infinidad de recursos que quizás hayamos desarrollada en disciplinas que no tienen nada que ver con la interpretación de conferencias y que no hay que dudar en usarlos y en seguir cultivándolos.
Para saber más sobre las Inteligencias Múltiples:
Para saber más sobre interpretación consecutiva:
My Consecutive Kit
Como a muchas personas que trabajan largas horas sentadas y en tensión, a los intérpretes a menudo nos duelen los hombros y el cuello. Además de lo incómodo que es aguantarse el dolor, cuando se sufre durante mucho tiempo el problema se puede cronificar y ocasionarnos migrañas, cefáleas tensionales, problemas con la voz o simplemente un dolor tan persistente que afecta nuestra calidad de vida (sin mencionar ya la calidad de nuestro trabajo).
Sin duda alguna, cuando los problemas de dolor en esta zona del cuerpo se vuelven muy serios hay que ir con un profesional. Sin embargo, no siempre podemos ver a un profesional en el momento deseado y mientras tanto hay que aguantar el dolor, dolor, dolor.
La buena noticia es que hay maneras de cuidarse y de ayudar a paliar el dolor cuando la atención de un profesional no está a nuestro alcance. Yo tengo dos remedios para cuando las cosas se ponen difíciles, es decir, para cuando siento mucha tensión, mucho dolor y tengo que seguir trabajando.
Mi primer arma secreta es el yoga. Aquí nuevamente lo ideal sería apuntarse a una clase e ir por lo menos una vez a la semana. Es importante aprender a hacer las posturas bajo la supervisión de un profesional. Sin embargo, en algunos momentos de la vida, las clases no son compatibles ni con mi presupuesto ni con mi horario, así que les dejo este magnífico recurso que he usado desde 2007:
Uno de los vídeos más recientes que han publicado es perfecto para los dolores de cuello, pero les recomiendo que exploren libremente. Hay muchos vídeos muy interesantes.
Mi segunda arma secreta es el automasaje. Esta ténica me la enseñó una masajista profesional en Albuquerque. Consiste en meter dos pelotas de tenis en un calcetín y atar un nudo muy tenso. Después se coloca una esterilla (como la que usamos para practicar yoga) y nos tumbamos colocando el calcetín debajo de la zona del cuerpo que deseamos masajear. Hay que probar con mucha delicadeza porque tenemos que ser capaces de controlar si dejamos caer todo el peso del cuerpo sobre la zona tensionada o no. Después se pueden hacer pequeños movimientos repetitivos circulares, verticales u horizontales hasta que la zona se relaje. De nuevo nunca está de más consultar con un profesional ya que algunos desaconsejan dar este tipo de masaje directamente sobre las vertebras (aunque no hay problema si se trata la zona de alrededor). A mí personalmente esta técnica me ha sacado de muchos apuros y me ha ayudado a controlar el dolor de manera muy efectiva.
Espero que les serivan estos consejos.
Before going away for the summer I wanted to go for my third project in the Competent Communicator Manual. I basically knew that I wanted to talk about a post about dance I wrote for another blog and I wanted to improve on previous feedback I had gotten from club members.
The three main things I wanted to improve were:
- Voice projection
- Vocal variety
- Having a stronger opening and closing
My main challenges with this project were:
- Chosing a specific objective
- Sticking to it
Some quick tips I have learned from previous projects that saved time and were effective:
- In order to speak for up to 7 minutes my speech has to stay under the 1000 word limit.
- Writing a quick outline with main points and sub-points
- Having decided the topic way in advance.
My mentor, Julian D. Martelli, helped me enormously with his accurate feedback and suggested a post by Andrew Dlugan about Speech 3 that was so useful that I have added it to my recommended links.
I was having a very hard time staying focused on the point but then I read this and it helped enormously for the next round of editing (that’ what my Toastmasters mentor and my husband said)
The Harder Part: Stay Focused On the Point
The much harder part — and the part that many speakers struggle badly with — is staying focused on the point.
No speaker intends to stray from their purpose; rather, it happens quite accidentally. Somewhere between getting to the point and writing the first draft, a collection of off topic elements are inserted into the speech.
- It might be an off-topic opening anecdote which is “too good not to share”.
- It might be some jaw-dropping statistics that are only remotely related to the topic.
I also read through some of the examples offered here and that helped me realize what I was doing right and what still need work (like my closing).
Anther challenge in preparing this speech was the limited amount of time I had to memorize it. I learned my speech on the 20 minutes it takes me to walk from work to home and then I barely had time to practice it twice and get feedback from my loyal critic. Delivering the speech required a good measure of improvisation and a lot of concentration. Unlike previous speeches, some of the audience members noticed I was speaking faster, pausing less and I looked at the ceiling a couple of times.
Here is the speech.
“All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of he great leaders have arisen from a lack of skill at dancing.” –Molière.
M. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and guests, Dance is one of my great passions in life. And while almost everyone agrees that it is great fun I’ve often had to defend that it can be much more than a hobby where you go learn a bunch of dance steps. Dance can actually teach you values and skills that could enhance your professional life in very meaningful ways.
How many of you here have ever taken a dance class? Has anyone tried latin dances, Bollywood, or ballet? I am going to share with you an experience that reminded me of the impact that this art form has had in my professional life.
A few weeks ago I took an aptitude test to select future students for the masters in conference interpreting at the University of La Laguna. The application form said that besides evaluating the candidate’s general knowledge, memorization skills and language proficiency,they would also be judging their ability to tolerate stress, be a team player and take criticism.
Only 16 candidates were chosen for this master’s and when they called me to tell me I was one of them I immediately started doing my “happy dance” feeling that I indeed owed this result to my dance training.
Why? you might ask.
There are certain core values and skills that dance instills in you from the very beginning and it turns out that they are highly appreciated in the professional world. I took a sample of the skills and abilities mentioned on the websites of 18 different organizations ranging from NASA to Mercadona as the most desirable for potential employees. This is what I found:
Among the most common elements, I found phrases like these:
“You must be a highly motivated individual and a team player.”
“You must have strong communication skills and be able to give constructive criticism.”
“You must be inclusive and respect diversity.”
“Stress management and the ability to accept criticism are highly valued.”
Before I tell you how I learned those skills and behaviours through my dance training, let me come back to Molière’s quote one more time. “All the failures of the great leaders have arisen from a lack of skill at dancing.” So, what are three things we could learn from dance that in Molière’s opinion could make us better leaders or maybe just better people?
Responsibility, Teamwork, and Stress Management.
In my first years as a dance student I learned that in order to make a group choreography work I had to be responsible for learning my part because in dance, the principle of “the chain is only as strong as the weakest link” definitely applies. Forgetting a step, or doing it too soon or too late could be catastrophic. Just imagine that you have to cross the stage towards the left while three dancers are running to the right. If you missed your cue and crossed just a little bit late, you could cause a collision. Remember I mentioned NASA earlier?
2. Be a better team player
The main objective in dance unlike sports is not to compete for a price. The main point is to work through the process of creating a work of art. From dancing with other people I learned that moving together creates a very special link. It makes you aware of others, it creates synchronicity. From creating dance pieces I learned that you had to be inclusive and respect diversity. If you have dancers, musicians and technicians contributing ideas, you must get good at giving feedback and at receiving criticism and you have to be willing to negotiate and compromise. If you are a jerk when you are asking for something, you might lose your dancers. If you take criticism personally, you might find yourself replaced by someone who can take it better. I think the same principles could apply for example to a research team or to a sales force.
3. Stress management
How do you get over your stage fright? When you perform in a theatre you are under a lot of pressure. Our worst nightmare as dancers is failure translated as blanking out or falling on your butt. But Dance has a secret for dealing with stress: divide and you shall conquer, like Napoleon said. First you work on your skill, that gives you self-reliance. Then you work on your memory and practice synchronizing with other dancers. Then you learn how to take care of peripheral elements such as costumes or lighting. While all these elements improve you remember how to breathe and relax. When the moment arrives and you have to perform in front of an audience, you think about how much you love doing this and remember all the preparation you’ve done. This is exactly the process I went through when I sat that test for the University and it worked.
Dance has been present in all the cultures of the world and through all the eras of human history because it is a primordial form of interaction and because it is great fun. Now that you know how it can help you enhance your sense of responsibility, teamwork or stress management abilities perhaps it is time to reconsider the role that the performing arts such as dance should have in our education.
“Travelling the path of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill.” — Twyla Tharp
For our last Madrid Toastmasters session I signed up for the role of Thought/Book/Movie of the day. I took the opportunity to work on my memory, on expanding my vocal variety, on cleaning up my pronunciation and intonation in English, and of course on improving my delivery.
One of the recurrent things to improve I get on the club’s feedback forms is that I should increase my volume, vocal variety and speed (I’ve been told sometimes a speak too slowly for extended periods of time, which is very soothing but not very engaging,) so I felt that taking some time to work on shorter speeches as supposed to full assignments to polish these issues, would be a good experiment.
In her book The Creative Habit, Learn it and keep it for Life, Twyla Tharp explains that even though copying is not a very popular idea these days when we are constantly encouraged to find our own voice, it is a great way to learn, especially if you set out to learn from the best. She defends the value she found on patterning herself after people whose work she admired. She says that she would stand right behind a great dancer of her choice in class in what she calls “copying mode,” and fall right into their footsteps. This is how their style, technique and timing would become imprinted in her muscle memory (memory is the key) giving her more tools for her own creative work.
In my case, I chose to copy Neil Degrasse Tyson, a brilliant astrophysicist and excellent public speaker. In one of his interviews he was asked to share what he though was the most astounding fact about the universe. I began by listening to the audio paying attention to the nuances of inflection and vocabulary. Then I tried shadowing the speech a couple of times. After memorizing the words I moved on memorizing his pitch, speed, and volume. I practice and got feedback from a native speaker before trying it out in the meeting last Wednesday.
Did I succeed and deliver a perfect speech copying all of his masterful nuances? Definitely not. However, I learned a lot and I saw for myself what my fellow Madrid Toastmasters had been telling me. My mentor and other people noticed the difference in the delivery and encouraged me to keep working this way, which leads me to believe I found a good tool.
Would I try this exercise again? Definitely yes, and I strongly recommend it.
THARP, Twyla and REITER, Mark. The Creative Habit, Learn it and Use it for Life. A Practical Guide. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.