Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Maintaining a Professional Image Under Fire

"Momma says when you stumble, make it part of the dance." These words of advice were embroidered onto an old red velvet pillow I saw propped on a shelf in a run-down thrift shop. I recalled the saying when Kirstie Alley’s partner collapsed with a muscle spasm and she fell on him during her rumba on Dancing with the Stars. Alley picked herself up and finished the routine displaying remarkable gamesmanship. I tell my clients when they make some mistake during a presentation to keep going and incorporate the faux pas as if it were your own original, intended action. One of the most important human characteristics to keep us on the path is resilience, that ability to bounce back when faced with personal and professional disappointments.

A Japanese young man, who spent a summer with our family several years ago, has posting disturbing messages about the horrific earthquake and tsunami. Kazoo lives in Tokyo and has sent us emails about the rolling electrical blackouts, fears of radioactivity in water and food, and the dreadful numbers of dead, missing and the 160,000 homeless. The impressive resilience of the Japanese nation is evident but the continuing high stress levels are taking a heavy toll on the physical and mental health of this courageous population.

In this country, many friends and acquaintances are going through stressful economic losses or have suffered personal and professional setbacks. While these pale in comparison to the unimaginable disasters in Japan, they still can wreck havoc on our health and mental state and adversely affect our communications. We may have experienced an illness, an injury, a death of a parent or someone close to us, a job loss, the breakup of a relationship or a marriage or other traumatic event. We can respond in various ways to difficult circumstances. Some individuals will fold and give up while others thrive on turmoil and pursue their goals, no matter what landmines they have to walk through.

A lady friend survived a long bout with cancer and was resolute in her desire to go back to work as a professional speaker. I was in the audience the first time she made the enormous effort to pull herself together, be cheerful, energetic and deliver a thoughtful message. She struggled but kept going. She has gone on to have her own radio and TV show.

A current client lost everything in the destructive Liberian War in West Africa but was eventually able to bring his family to a new life in the United States. Despite harrowing experiences, Ezechiel Bambolo has written a book, The Firstborn Son, and is speaking to audiences about how this concept relates to the stability of the family and society.

Countless studies show that it is the interpretation or meaning that people give to stressful events, their belief in their ability they are never helpless and having a strong commitment to their objectives that help them through difficult times. I might add that many clients tell me their spiritual beliefs are their bedrock.

How do you react to stress in your life or unexpected circumstances when you arrive at a speech site (or job interview, meeting, networking group, etc.?) Murphy’s Law is operating at full throttle these days and you will need to expect and welcome change or be left in the dust. The ability to communicate effectively under stress is a skill that you can learn. We’ll talk more in our next blog about developing a productive attitude and techniques to be compelling even when you take a spill.


Resources: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. Think you have a dull subject? Read this excellent book to help you make your ideas unforgettable.

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