I’ve been a professional leadership, executive and business coach for over 21 years, working with senior leaders, leadership teams and individual professionals to accomplish challenging goals and aspirations in a variety of settings. Over the past 4 years, I have coached TED Fellows and TEDx speakers in several countries as well as event and platform speakers. — Kathy
For TEDxLivermore 2013, I served as Speaker Coach -- intensive, challenging, joyful work with some great human beings (speakers and organizing team).
On the TEDx day itself, however, my most cherished experience was not with a speaker, but with a little boy scheduled to go on stage as part of a group of 1st and 2nd grade violinists. These children were performing at the request of Walter Collins, a TEDx speaker whose California Symphony outreach program - teach music to teach reading - was showing extremely promising quantitative and qualitative outcomes.
Roughly 20 minutes before the children were scheduled to perform, I walked into their wait room to take a quick pulse of the energy. Four adults and 6 children were in the room. Five of the children ran and slid across the smooth wooden floor, laughing and talking. One boy, separate on the sideline, sat on his mother’s lap. Head tilted down, chin almost touching his chest, body curved in and down, arms and hands hanging loosely, he was a picture of sadness, if not dejection.
Fifteen minutes later (six minutes before the children were to perform) I came in again. ‘Twas the same picture: 5 children playing, same child sitting. The boy’s energy and posture had not changed; now, however, he sat farther from the other children, alone on a chair, against a wall. I asked the lead adult if I could talk with the boy. “It probably won’t do any good” and “He probably won’t go onstage” and “He had an emotional upset” were several responses. Then came the one I waited for, “Yes, you can talk to him.”
I walked over to the boy, knelt down so our eyes were at the same height, and asked him to look at me. Searching for a way to connect quickly, I gave him my name and said, “Sometimes, when I was little, I felt sad. Sometimes I still do. Does that ever happen to you?” He nodded yes. I asked if I could show him something. Again he nodded yes. “Come with me,” I requested, offering my hand. Together we walked to the nearby mirror-covered wall, and began a quick, simple emotional intelligence learning adventure.
“I am going to show you what sad looks like and what happy looks like,” I said. “Look at me in the mirror so you can see how they are different. “
Mimicking the boy, I put my eyes and head down, curved my body inward, and held arms and hands so loose they seemed to hang straight down as if engaging no energy of my own. “This,” I told him, “is sad. Look at you. Look at me.” While speaking, I demonstrated again the body posture of sad, so he could see it as well as feel it.
The next step was “happy”. Happy, I told him as I modeled it, looks like this: lift your head UP, raise your eyebrows, throw your arms out wide (which raises chest and opens heart) and curve your lips upward like a smile.
He peeked at me from his downward tilted head, but did not move.
“Ah,” I asked, as I moved behind him, “May I hold your hands so we can do this together?” His response was a slight yes/down of that tilted head.
“OK, ready? Let’s be sad. Now, let’s be HAPPY! Now SAAAD. Now HAPPYYYY!”
In rhythm with the words, I repeated what each looked like, while moving his arms outward on happy, in and down on sad. On the second iteration, the beginnings of a smile emerged. “Ohhh, is that a smile? OK. Looks like you’re moving into happy! Oops, we’re in sad now. Remember, head down.”
Rapidly, we went from sad to happy and back. By the 5th iteration, the smile was real and the boy had begun to move on his own. At this moment, the stage manager walked in and declared, “Time to go on. Bring your violins and follow me.”
The boy jumped up, ran to get his violin, and, with a big grin on his face, joined the other children.
It took well under 3 minutes for the boy to learn a basic difference between sad and happy and to shift his own emotional state.
That was the end of it I thought, until the next day when I received an email from Walter. “They were calling you,” he wrote,‘The Child Whisperer’.“ Will you share whatever it was that you did?”
And so I have.