Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stephen Colbert on your expert's fear of failure (and how to work around it)

Maybe your company or organization has experts who blow off media interviews or blow up your attempts to provide them with communications training--or they just insist they don't need it, evidence to the contrary. Maybe every time they're interviewed, it's all misquotes and errors  on the reporter's part. They duck the opportunities you have in mind for them. Why? Take it from Stephen Colbert: They're experts--except at this communications thing you're asking  of them--and they're afraid to fail in public.

Colbert just went outside his own performance box, appearing in the New York Philharmonic's star-studded reprise of Stephen Sondheim's Company. In an interview, he told NPR's Terry Gross why he never mentioned this special appearance on his popular TV show:
...I had no idea whether I wanted anyone to know I was doing it, because I knew how hard it was going to be, and I was afraid I would suck....So if you're a perfectionist, and you know you're about to go something, for instance "Company" at Lincoln Center, if you know you're about to do something at which you cannot be perfect, you know this ahead of time, then that is daunting because you know what your heart is like and the way you approach your work. So it's difficult to know you're not going to be perfect. And I guess I just didn't - I was afraid to invite people.
What's the trick to getting experts past that fear of failing at the unknown in communicating? For the trainer, it's giving them a safe place to fail. That means putting them at ease, making sure you don't add to their embarrassment, knowing which specific fears to anticipate, offering tips and work-arounds apparent only to them, time to practice in confidence, and more. And yes, you can learn how to do all that.

Colbert's coach gave him permission to fail right before the performance:
And then you have to forget all of it and sing, or as - my voice coach is Liz Caplan, and Liz would say - we would work and work and work. We worked for months. And then she said: Oh, just sing stupid. It was just a few days before we went. She goes: Just sing stupid. Just sing like you dont - like we've never discussed any of this and just make every mistake you can think of but just sing the song with all your heart.
I specialize in communications training for experts, including scientists and engineers, and now I'm offering communicators a train-the-trainers workshop so your team can become more effective at coaching your experts on a day-to-day basis. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information, and stand by for a workshop for which individuals can register. Clients are already booking this one-day session as important professional development for their communicators--how about you?

You can read the transcript of the interview here, with the portion above coming at around 20 minutes in, and listen to the audio here. Below is a video clip so you can see just how "out there" Colbert was.

Clip to Evernote
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