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Is Your Body Confusing Your Listeners?

(Kinesthetic Imagery, Part 2)

In last month’s eTips, I talked about kinesthetic imagery and how it relates to characterization. (If you missed it, it’s at )

By “kinesthetic,” I meant the sensations people feel in their muscles, guts, or joints. These differ from and supplement visual images, auditory images, and images of all the other senses.

More than the other senses, though, the kinesthetic relates directly to intentions. In other words, we take cues from how you stand and how you move that help us understand who you are and your intentions toward us.

Janet’s Attitude Problem

Take the case of the teller we’ll call Janet. She was a new teller, aflame with a passion for stories – especially for the traditional tales of her culture. She began to tell one of these tales at a coaching workshop I led.

Unfortunately, it was clear within moments that, even though her story was good and was important to her, it was hard for us to feel the story’s impact.

Why? The way she stood appeared to deflect our attention from her. She tended to look down. Even when her eyes looked up, her head still faced down. She almost seemed to be shrinking from us. Even when she didn’t step back from us, it looked like she was about to.

How Could I Help Her?

After the story, I appreciated the many excellent qualities of the story and how she had told it. When she asked for suggestions, I said, “What do you want your listeners to get from your performance?”

She said, “I want them to get the stories!”

I said, “What is it about the stories you want them to get?”

She said, “There’s a whole tradition, a culture in these stories. And that culture doesn’t get the respect it deserves. I want them to get THAT.”

As she answered me, I noticed a new quality in her voice, a kind of fierceness. I said, “It looked like you might have been a little afraid, when you told that story. Was that true?”

She said, “Well, I guess it felt kind of scary. Yes.”

I said, “In order to get across how important these stories are, would you be willing to face an audience that scares you?”

Without hesitation, she said, “Yes!”

Finding Her Truth in Her Body

I said, “Tell me how much that means to you.”

She began to talk about her commitment to the stories, the tradition, and her people. At one point I stopped her and said, “Right now, what do you feel in your chest?”

She said, “I just feel how important this is.”

I said, “Can you tell me exactly what it feels like inside your chest?”

She gestured to her chest and said, “It feels like I have a flame here.”

I said, “Great! Can you feel that flame in your chest, while you tell us your story once again?”

She began her story. After a minute or so, she paused for our reaction. We applauded!

The story’s words hadn’t changed. Neither did it’s pacing. But now we were riveted by it.

Why? We felt intuitively that she was expecting something from us, something noble and worthy of our respect. We were eager to comply!

Three Steps for Relating to Your Listeners

From Janet’s coaching session, you can learn the three steps for using kinesthetic imagery to help you relate to your audience. The same steps apply regardless of your problem attitude, whether you are uncertain, over-eager to please, annoyed, etc. They even apply when you have no problem, but simply want to return to a successful posture as you approach a new audience.

First, decide your intention toward your listeners. Are you there to inspire them? To tickle their funnybones? To warn them as a concerned friend? To offer them a gift? Or…?

Second, find a way to convey your intention with your body: your movements and your posture.

Third, find something to focus on other than the mechanics of kinesthetic communication.

Sometimes, we are misled into focusing on the mechanics by those trying to help us. After all, it’s tempting for someone coaching you to deal with the externals of what they are experiencing kinesthetically from you – to say, for example, “Stand up straight,” or “Don’t look down.”

But if you are feeling fear, for instance, then your expressive body will communicate that fear. You SHOULD be communicating what you feel in your body. Otherwise, your intention will be hard to read – and your concealment itself will be read as an intention.

Therefore, you need to find something other than fear to feel. In Janet’s case, she found it easy to simply tune into her existing passion and to her expectation that we would respond to that passion with a sense of respect for her stories. Focusing on “not showing fear” would create a deadness in her kinesthetic communication, whereas focusing on her passion ignited it.

Once she felt her passion, her posture changed. But changing her posture without changing her feeling would have had a very different, less positive effect.

The Rewards of Kinesthetic Communication

Finding your passion and passing it on to others – that’s the very core of a rewarding storytelling experience. And your transmission of kinesthetic information can make it easier to reap those rewards.

(Part Three of this article will cover “The Two Qualities to Always Convey.”)

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