When Your Past Is Present

True or false? “You can’t change the past!”

This statement is made by many who have experienced painful things in their past. The pain may have been experienced in childhood, in a previous or current marriage, or in some other kind of relationship altogether. Analogous to the “Get-out-of-jail-free” card in Monopoly, this partly-true saying serves as a “Get-out-of-difficult-emotional-work” card for many walking wounded.

The statement is true in part, but not fully. That we cannot change the facts of the past is obvious. What happened – whatever happened – happened. We cannot undo what was done, no matter how desperately we might want to. The funds embezzled by the business partner and squandered on drugs are unrecoverable. The lover who left has not even looked back. The deceased loved one is gone. The fact that you were sexually violated is as irreversible as it is horrible. Indeed, we cannot change what happened.

We don’t live with the facts of damaging life-events alone. We carry away from those events some things that are not immutable. What do we carry away besides the facts? We walk away with our understanding or interpretation of the facts. We carry our conclusions about ourselves and others based on our – sometimes faulty – interpretation of our experiences. We also carry our decisions about how to live in light of our understanding of those facts. Recognizing this difference between the facts and our understanding of them and choices based on our misunderstanding of them is invaluable. The facts are immutable; but many things associated with the facts can be changed, and should be changed.

When we are unable to recognize the difference between the changeable and the unchangeable things, we are set up for one of two serious problems: unnecessary misery or unnecessary exhaustion. The famous Serenity Prayer addresses our situation eloquently: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Consider three essential issues in this prayer. First, we must find peace (serenity) regarding certain unchangeable things – things about which we desperately desire change. Indeed, we need God’s help (grace) to find that serene place of acceptance of what feels absolutely unacceptable. Second, we need courage (perhaps more accurately stated, God’s power released in us) to change even the changeable. Sometimes the “doable” is only done with the help of God and others. That which falls into the category of “changeable” is sometimes terribly difficult and/or frightening; thus, we need courage to do what must be done to effect the change desired. Finally, the prayer affirms our need for God’s wisdom to know the difference between these two – the changeable and the unchangeable. It is not obvious. Our minds can trick us; we can be deceived. We may imagine that we can change the “unchangeable” if only we try harder, manipulate more craftily, or beg more intensely. Of course, this results in our unnecessary exhaustion – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. On the other hand, when we file things in the “unchangeable” category which are in fact changeable, we can live many years in misery unnecessarily, and even with unnecessary levels of misery. If only we had realized that courage and effort would have paid off in time… This prayer for “wisdom to know the difference,” prayed until it is fully answered, can keep us from unnecessary misery or unnecessary exhaustion.

We can agree that the facts of the past cannot be changed. What then can be changed? Sandra Wilson, in her excellent book Hurt People Hurt People, identifies four things that can and must be changed, if I am to be changed. They are:

1. My perceptions of my experiences.
2. My conclusions about my experiences.
3. My choices in response to my experiences.
4. The life patterns I have formed as a result of my experiences.

All of these are indeed changeable, but not necessarily obviously changeable, nor easily changed, and rarely changed over-night.

Much of the family dysfunction in our culture is rooted in these very issues. Wounded people, instead of finding healing, pretend to be well. It may not be too difficult to keep up the pretense in public, but at home we are found out. We are not as well as we want people to think.

If you’ve had painful experiences in the past, and you’ve concluded, “nothing can be done about it,” please consider this “second opinion.” If an honest assessment of your life indicates that your past is showing up in the present, seek the help needed. If disproportionate anger, distrust, suspicion, or defensiveness is evident in present relationships, this may be a sign that your past is pathologically present.

You can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This is true Christianity. Jesus accepts us just as we are, but He never intended that we stay just as we are. He wants to transform us. And the “Good News” of His Gospel is that no one is so badly broken as to be beyond the power of His change; and conversely, no one is so good as to be beyond need of it. Not only will you benefit in this transformation Jesus will bring to you, but those closest to you will be blessed, too. You will probably need help in this transformation – help from books, lectures, and specific relationships. Seek until you find all the resources God has for you.

If you would consider a professional counseling relationship, you might provide a potential helper with a copy of this article. Request that he or she read it and tell you if they think they could help you sort out these issues and effect change in your life. Finally, don’t resist investing money in this process. Most of us readily invest money in education to make a better living; too few invest in counseling to make a better life. Proverbs 4:7 says, “Though it cost all you have, get wisdom, get understanding.” Even in this point – especially in this point, I would encourage prayerful wisdom in making such investments. Invite God to lead you to put the past in the past.

Presentation Show and Tell – Presentation Skills For Senior Executives

The “show” in ‘show and tell’ presentations, is slowly making a comeback in corporate America. It’s a development that is long overdue. Long, dense, dry text projected on conference room screens around the country has too long passed for the “show” criteria of executive presentations. The more text and the fewer the graphics in presentations it seemed, the more the presenter was congratulated for having prepared well.

To the long-suffering audience who had to endure these presentations, there was little reward in the effort, except getting to the end of them, where it was hoped, a few signs of life might still be found in the unscripted question and answer session.

So why are we coaches beginning to see some signs of progress? Why is it increasingly acceptable to deliver shorter presentations with more graphics and less text? Why is it now becoming acceptable to present ideas using a few simple visuals or props, or even, on their own merit with no slides at all?

Call it the rise of presentation personality or simply the maturation of that long-derided but necessary business tool: PowerPoint. Maybe it simply has to do with the groans emanating forth from every executive suite when word filters out of another request to put together, or to sit through, one of these dated presentations.

Whatever the cause, there is increasing recognition of another, more successful communication method available to executives; one best illustrated by the energy-infused performance style presentations of dynamos like Apple’s Steve Jobs.

These new wave of presentation skills share some common attributes:

1) The audience takes center stage.

Good presenters ask themselves what their audience needs and wants from each presentation. Great presenters center their presentations on those needs and wants and make the audience integral to the presentation. Start with what you know about the audience’s perceptions and assumptions of the issues you’re presenting. What will it take for them to invest in something new?

2.) No passion, no presentation.

Every presentation is an opportunity for the presenter to share a passion. If yours are about something else, a mere transfer of data for instance, find another way to get it to the people who need it (like hitting the send button). This is the difference between in person presentations and other ways of sharing ideas. If people are going to invest their time and energy to come and listen to you, you won’t be successful if you merely “tell”. You must show them your ideas through the passion with which you present them.

3.) Get visual.

Written text projected on a screen is not a “visual”. If you use slides, find a way of representing your ideas that have real and instant impact. Never use text to “say” what a visual can “show”.

4.) Presentation is performance.

Don’t present what you haven’t practiced or don’t believe in. This isn’t acting. To present well, be wholly engaged in your material and ideas before trying to communicate these well to an audience. Take your preparation seriously. And for heaven’s sake, come out from behind that lectern.

5.) Show leadership.

Your reputation for leadership is enhanced or reduced with every presentation. Seek to hit a home run then, every time you’re “on stage”, no matter your perception of what’s at stake. It may seem unfair, but the leadership skills you display during your presentation are the ones that will be used to judge the whole of your work. Even if you don’t yet have a leadership title, your moment in front of people is pivotal in determining if and when you’ll be given one. Think about what leadership looks and sounds like to you-and infuse your presentations with nothing less.

Four Public Speaking Pitfalls That Trap Most Presenters

If you want to drastically improve your very next presentation, it is important to understand 4 of the pitfalls that keep most speakers in a ditch out of which they can never seem to climb. If you see where these traps are, you can easily avoid them. As a result, you will clear your pathway to a powerful and persuasive speech.

Here are the 4 costly mistakes:
 
1. They close their speech with the question and answer session. Never close your speech with the Q&A session, because people remember best what they hear first and what they hear last. If you end with the Q&A, you lose control over the last message your audience receives and much of your hard work is undone. It is still a good idea to have a Q&A session, but it is not a good idea to end your presentation with it. Instead, hold the session about 80-90% into your speech and then close the speech in your own powerful way.

2. They open their speech with a whimper. Most speakers open with statements like, “I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me to speak on this prestigious occasion. First I would like to thank Bob.” What is wrong with that kind of opening? Frankly, it’s boring. Boredom shows up when you do what is expected. Instead, come out in an unexpected way by jumping right into your message. Take the “sitcom approach” and start the show first and then transition back to the opening theme song. One good way to do this is to immediately dive into a story. That will catch your audience off guard and you will have their attention from your very first word.

Another effective way is to ask a question. For example, I start some speeches with the following question: “What do you think is the number one thing that stands in the way of most people living their dreams?” This immediately gets my audience’s attention and prompts them to think and to get involved with the speech. Questions work extremely well because they take your audience members from passive spectators to active participants and that definitely raises the energy. Once you finish your planned opening, it is then fine to go back and thank the people who brought you there. Don’t open with a whimper, open with a bang.

3. They lip-synch. I once had a CFO of a biotech company say, “Craig, we need you to coach us with our presentation. We already have the presentation, but we just need to know what to say.” That might seem confusing but I knew exactly what he meant. He meant that the company already had a slide presentation but they needed to know what to say between those slides. Once I worked with them, they came to realize that they had to look at their major points first and then determine if slides were even needed to reinforce them. Most presenters who use slides simply verbalize the same points that are made on the slide. The key to understand is this; if you say the same thing as your slides, then one of you is not needed! You are doing the equivalent of lip-synching your presentation. The best time to use slides is for real visuals such as charts, graphs, and diagrams that will help clarify what you say verbally.

4. They don’t master the essence of public speaking. Bill Gove, the first President of the National Speakers Association, once said that good public speaking is being able to “tell a story and make a point.” That is the essence of public speaking. If you want to become the kind of speaker others line up and sign up to see, then make an effort to master storytelling. People make decisions with their emotions backed up by logic. Stories reach those emotions and get people in a frame of mind to take action. When you become a master storyteller, you help other people see new stories unfold for their own lives. Like the old saying goes, “Facts tell and stories sell.” The key for effective speaking is to get to your stories early because they are the heart of your speech.

If you avoid the 4 pitfalls that trap most speakers and you work on the suggestions above, you will find yourself far ahead of most of the people who ever stood up to say anything.