I met Dana in front of Stat Center. I was a few minutes early and he was already waiting. We went to the back of the building to start the first class in the public space. A part of Dana’s plan is to be teach me be comfortable with people who sometimes stare at us or even take pictures.
Dana suggested that before any seminar or class, I do a few exercises. A couple of minutes for stretching the body, especially the parts that are numb or painful (in my case shoulders), can help reducing stress and give more energy to the speaker. This was followed by a couple of breathing exercises (breathing in through mouth, holding for a few seconds, and breathing out with noise). Then we ‘shouted’ English alphabet with a stress on the sounds that letters make. This can be helpful for people like me who have monotonic voice to prepare for putting enough stress on letters of each word during a talk. Finally, Dana asked me to repeat a Shakespeare's poet that was aimed to put stress on the right word of a sentence.
After the above preliminary exercises, Dana asked me to talk about my morning for three minutes. I improvised my short talk and it was recorded to be used as a reference point. As I realized, a few problems were observed in my talk:
- (1) I need to convey my emotions/energy
- (2) I need to have better body movements
- (3) I need to address my monotone sound
- (4) I should add more ‘pauses’ in my talk (I am too fast in connecting sentences).
In fact, the above problems are all related. To investigate these, I gave two short talks, first in English talking about an issue that makes me angry, and second in my mother tongue about something that makes me excited. In the first talk, I was asked not to move my legs to observe how it affects me. It was observed that this restriction has a dramatic affect on my presentation as I looked stressed and did not move my hands either.
It turns out that language barrier plays a role the level of my excitement. I could convey my emotions much better when I talked in Persian (Dana could figure it from my body language, facial expressions, and intonations). I tried to follow up this issue by observing Dana’s talking; I figured out that he puts a great stress on the words that convey emotions; these are usually adjectives and adverbs, and often come at the end of a sentence. An example was when he said ‘look, this is a GREAT stone!’, and the stress on the word ‘great’ could convey the message. This is an issue that I am practising to address starting today.
I have found Dana’s tips helpful in improving my communication skills. An important part of this process is me observing him as a great speaker; it seems he naturally uses tips that can be formulated (e.g., putting stress on adverbs or putting his hand on his chest when he is talking about himself). We ended up talking different aspects from architecture (Stata building versus Boston city hall) to politics to music (how rappers use intonation to convey a message). Dana is going to send me the video of my talk to observe myself in action, as well as the Shakespeare's poem to practice it more.
In general, this is a great experience and I am thankful to Charles for it.
September 8th, 2016
Update: The poet that I mentioned is not from Shakespeare. Dana updated me that it is from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado:
To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a lifelong lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block
The video of my talk is here.