Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spinning Plates Takes Focus

The most popular tourist attraction in Chicago, in the entire Midwest for that matter, is Navy Pier. Sure, it’s mostly a painful experience for us local types, but when you drive east from Iowa, what’s more fun than Ferris Wheels, cinnamon roasted almonds, fake pirate fights and IMAX movies? And can someone tell me WHY Navy Pier has fake pirate fights? This makes no sense whatsoever.

Anyway, seems like every summer Navy Pier plays host to Cirque Shanghai, a family friendly show that is half circus, half “I didn’t make the Chinese Olympic Gymnastics Team.” Well, for the first time, my wife and I took in this tourist-trap of a show, and damn if we didn’t enjoy it.

Flashy costumes, glittery sets, loud music, guys driving motorcycles inside a ball of death, impressive acrobatics and balance tricks. I mean, whats not to like, right?

Seriously, we really enjoyed the show.

Not surprisingly, I found myself looking at the performance on a multitude of levels, and I soon realized a lesson could be derived from the the girls spinning plates.

Undoubtedly spinning plates on long sticks while doing gymnastics is difficult. At my age, I actually have trouble bending over to put socks on in the morning, so I can promise you my knowledge of such things is purely anecdotal. Anyway, these performers made an extremely difficult task look easy.

In fact, they made it look really easy. Like it was a normal, natural thing that anybody could do. Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book “Outliers” describes expertise coming after 10,000 hours of practice. Well, as the girls were all of 13 years old, I’m gonna say it’s more than just sheer practice hours at work here.

Studying their faces during the performance, what I saw was focus. Laser-like focus on the task at hand.

Before you ever get up to present, you’re probably knee-deep in all sorts of other tasks, commitments, responsibilities and diversions. Whether it’s little Johnny’s tee-ball game, a series of emails from the accounting department or hurricanes scheduled to wipe out most of the eastern seaboard, stuff happens!

To ensure success, you better do a whole lot of the right things and eliminate a whole lot of the wrong things. One thing is for sure--when the times comes and your name is called to present your ideas and knowledge, you better have FOCUS.

• Focus on being a likeable human, not a robotic, lifeless machine.
• Focus on restraint--you can’t say it all.
• Focus on telling appropriate stories that prove your point, not piles of redundant data.

And above all, focus on the audience first, not yourself. Remember, it’s not what you say that matters--it’s what they hear.

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