I speak for a living. I run a virtual company, I consult with clients, and I facilitate workshops. That means I travel a lot. And when I get to my destination, I stand in front of groups of people and help them think about work differently, and themselves differently.
So, it was inconvenient at best when, after struggling with hoarseness for months, my doctor told me to significantly reduce the use of my voice. When that didn’t work, I had surgery to repair my vocal chords and spent three weeks in silence to heal.
When I went back to the classroom, I noticed I’d changed.
Like other performers, I was accustomed to revving myself up to facilitate a workshop. I'd wake up and have a cup of coffee in my hotel room. I’d listen to uplifting music to get my energy up. When I arrived at my location, I'd set up, say a little prayer and wait for attendees to come into the training room. I’d feel the adrenaline kick in. It was show time. I was ready.
But on this beautiful spring day in Petaluma, California, it was different. I introduced myself and walked through the agenda, but my time in silence had changed me. I was more grounded. I wasn’t on. My routine had changed from caffeine and adrenaline to showing up as quiet, self-assured and grounded.
As I started the workshop, I felt exposed. I wasn't quippy. I wasn't dazzling them. My energy felt low, and I started to panic. As the anxiety grew, a voice in my head saved me, saying, "Let it go. Just be yourself. Listen for what they need and give it to them. You’ve got this."
In that moment, I relaxed. I gave myself the space to not be amazing.
Instead, I gave them my full attention and really listened. They shared what they wanted to learn, and I responded, speaking from my heart. That was all I could do. I couldn't get myself up to that peak performance place I usually went to. It would just have to be enough. I would just have to be enough.
When the workshop was over, more people came up to thank me than ever before. They pointed out specific things I'd said during the day that really mattered to them. I'd not had that happen very often, and I knew I was on to something.
I can’t imagine going back to the way I used to cover, perform, dazzle. I don’t even remember what it was like to be that person. I’ve fully embraced showing up as myself and it is the most rewarding experience—gratifying, humbling and real.
Here are the lessons I've learned from showing up as myself:
1) People don't want a performance, they want you to be real.
I was so worried about delivering value and making it worth their while that it inadvertently became more about me than it was about them. How could I share everything I thought would be helpful? How could I keep them entertained? They get more out of my sessions now that I come in focused on accomplishing their agenda instead of my own.
2) Caffeine and adrenaline cover your vulnerabilities (and that’s a bad thing).
If I was up, I didn't have to be vulnerable. I could dazzle instead of connect. I could educate instead of listen. I could appear competent and relevant and cover any insecurities I might be having that day. By staying grounded, I'm just myself. I share my own story and experiences more easily. I connect with attendees. I'm more authentic and present.
3) Being yourself is energizing and more fun.
I don’t feel so drained when I show up as myself. Before, I used to barely make it back to my hotel room. Now I feel energized from all the ways I'm connecting throughout the day. I know that no matter how my presentation was received, I did the best I could. I brought my whole self to my work.
4) Being yourself may feel risky, but that’s where the greatest rewards come from.
I’ve been starting my sessions with talking circles. We all pull our chairs into a circle and attendees share their stories. They get real, sharing their experiences and realizing they’re not alone. Then I hack the workshop, crowdsource topics based on the stories they shared, and rework the presentation during the break. It makes for a more organic, rewarding experience.
Recently, I’ve started workshops with three minutes of grounding meditation. It helps everyone transition from their prior meeting and be fully present for our work together.
Whether you're facilitating a workshop or leading a team, these lessons apply.
Connect with your team. Show up grounded and present. Trust your wisdom. Don’t try to do too much, say too much, solve too much. Do just enough. Leave inspired and with energy to spare. In doing so, you’ll create a team, a workplace, an event that matters.
Want more tips to manage your wellbeing? Here’s one of my favorites on boundary setting.