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The 5 dimensions of Connection

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by Daniel Kingsley

Neural Connections

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.

E.M. Forster – Howards End

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King Jr.

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It’s fairly obvious to most people that public speaking or leadership involves a degree of connection connection to the people we are speaking to.  They are correct – this is important.  Really, really important.  Without including them, you’re not communicating. You’re just talking to yourself, or even worse, talking at them.  Yet, it’s not the only dimension we need to be connected in.

In this article, I want to speak about how we include our audience when we speak, and also the 4 other essential (and often neglected) aspects of our reality that we need to be plugged into as successful speakers or leaders – Our selves, our material, the environment and the space.

 

It starts with you

In any communication, the first person you need to be connected with is yourself.  One of my favourite teachers says “Where you are coming from dictates where you are going”.  Are you nervous, worried, anxious, distracted, sad, angry, over-excited?  None of these states needs to be a barrier to communicating, yet if any one of them has taken you over it’s a problem.

So, the first question to ask yourself is – where am I at emotionally right now?  How available am I to be in relationship with the people I’m speaking to?  Am I distracted?  Is there a risk that my emotion may get the better of me?

Don’t get me wrong.  Emotion is great.  Emotions are great.  They are the bridge that connects us to our audience.  It’s just not so wonderful when they are running the show.  If we are scared, terrified or even angry, we often can’t think straight.  If we are desperately sad we can often collapse in on ourselves.  If we are distracted, we can’t focus.  The emotional parts of us work best when they are passengers in the car, not the drivers.

The first stage is to unblend from the emotional parts of ourselves, so that we can relate with them (rather in the way we would relate with another person).  Most of the emotional parts of ourselves can be usefully related with as if they are children.  (The emotional parts of our brain are important, powerful, yet not very sophisticated).  We can’t pick up the chair we are sitting on, so the starting point is to recognise that there is a part of us that’s feeling emotional and it’s not all of who we are.  Then we can relate with it.

The technique that I teach for doing this is to Listen, Empathise, Validate and Reassure the emotional parts of ourselves.  I call this the LEVER method and I’ve written about it in detail here.

 

And it’s not all in your head

We think that we are thinking creatures who can feel.  The truth is that we are feeling creatures who can think.  Feelings live in the body.

Our minds operate with much greater clarity when we are “located” in our bodies.

What do I mean by being “located in” our bodies?  Of course, we are located in our bodies! Where else would we be?

The answer is our heads.  Most of us spend most of our lives living in and trapped in our thinking.  Most of the time we can’t feel our bodies at all unless we are feeling significant discomfort. 

The alternative is what is called embodiment.  This is the felt sense of our existence living in our bodies on a moment-by-moment basis.

Pretty much everyone has experienced this from time to time.  If you are tasting delicious food and you are really enjoying it, just lost in the flavour, that’s an embodied experience.  If you are running along feeling the wind in your face, your heart beating and your feet hitting the ground, without a thought in your head, that’s an embodied experience.  And yes, if you’re having mindblowing sex, that’s also (probably) a fairly embodied experience. 

I’m talking about having a sense of feeling yourself from the inside without thinking about yourself.

When we are able to do this on a day to day basis, we start to feel comfortable in our own skins.  A natural sense of confidence arises, and our minds become clear and calm.  And most importantly we become available to connect with other and the wider world.

I’ve written in detail about this here and here.

One of the key elements of my trainings is around learning how to be more embodied in every moment.  It’s a skill.  We can learn it and practice it.  And when we do, the benefits cannot be overstated.

 

Now you’re ready to connect to them

Now you’re inhabiting your body and looking after the emotional parts of yourself, you are ready and available to meet and connect with someone else.  How do we connect with another?

Connection with another person isn’t actually something we need to do.  If you walk into a room and your partner is angry with you, you can feel it even before they speak.  We are already connected all the time.  But connection is something that we can tune into.  If you are sitting opposite a friend at a table lost in reading an article on your phone you probably won’t feel very connected to them.  But if you put your phone down, look at them and perhaps even make eye contact the chances are you will feel a lot more connected, even before either of you has said anything.

My public speaking and leadership courses are based around a method called Relational Presence.  When we are in Relational Presence with another person, we are present with them and paying particular attention to the connection.  What does this mean in practice?  We are seeing them, we are letting them see us, and we are letting the sense of connectedness be more important than anything we or they are saying.  It’s not that the content of the communication becomes unimportant, it’s just the connectedness is allowed to be slightly more important.  (By the way, it’s possible to be in Relational Presence with people without using eye contact, but that’s a story for another day).

This way of being – seeing and allowing ourselves to be seen, whilst foregrounding the sense of connection is very simple but also amazingly powerful.  Your audience will feel much more connected to you.  You’ll feel much more connected to them.  So, there’s a two-way sense of rapport.  And you’ll feel more confident too. 

To get a flavour of this method you might want to have a look at a couple of videos I’ve made.

Stop performing – Start Connecting

See and be Seen

If you’re interested in finding trainers who work in this way (other than me) check out RelationalPresence.eu (Europe) or RelationalPresence.com (USA and rest of the world).

 

Now connect to what you’re saying!

How many times have you heard someone saying words and thought – “you’re just saying words”?  You can’t actually feel the truth of what the person is saying.

This happens when we get so caught up in trying to deliver the correct words or worrying about the audience that we forget to actually connect to our material and our message.

Connecting to your message is actually really easy to do, but you do need to consciously do it.

As you speak the words really take the time to understand and feel what you are saying as if you were saying it for the first time.  If you can find any emotional connection to what you are saying really tap into that and feel that emotion.  If you really believe what you are saying and you believe it’s important, then tap into that sense of belief and importance (those are emotional feelings too).

The key here is to listen, connect with the meaning of the words you’re saying and feel.  Actors talk about “living the lines”.  The more you can live your words the more the audience will understand them, feel them and the deeper impact you will make.

Ultimately, much of communication is about feeling.  The poet Maya Angelou is reported to have said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

There is research to suggest that you can synchronise your audience’s brain with your brain by telling them stories.  I wrote about it here.  Once again, the key is living that story as you tell it.

 

We don’t speak in a vacuum

Once you’re connected to yourself, your audience and your material you can widen your attention.  What you are saying to this audience exists in a context.  There’s the room you are in, there’s what is happening directly outside the room, and there’s what is happening in the wider world.

Your audience (and you) are constantly being impacted by environmental factors, whether it be the weather, politics, a passing pandemic, the state of the planet, or the cost of living.

The more we can be aware of these connections as we speak, the more it can inform what we say (as necessary).

The first key here is that if something is significantly impacting your audience, it is worth at least considering how it might relate to what you are saying.  Whether it’s commenting on the thunderstorm that’s raging outside, to explaining the links between your subject and other things that might be on their minds.

Part of my philosophy is that we are all in this together.  It is clear that we as creatures living on this planet are interconnected in many ways.  Audiences appreciate it when you help them make connections.  But even beyond that, I believe that it’s our responsibility as speakers and leaders to consider the environmental impact of what we do.  And I don’t just mean the climate of the planet, but the environment of our team, our organisation, our community and the communities that live alongside ours.

I’m not religious, but there is (to me) a rather lovely concept in Jewish biblical philosophy of Tikun Olam – or seeking to repair what is broken in the world.  And our role in this is summed up by the saying “It is not your duty to complete the work, nor may you desist from it”.  In other words just because we can’t fix everything, we should not give up on trying to positively influence where we can.

One commentator talks in terms of “don’t despair, don’t disengage…don’t underestimate your power”.

Interestingly enough, the powerful contemporary thinker Otto Scharmer offers an analysis that many of the big problems in the world such as the Climate Crisis, poverty, starvation, political disenfranchisement and even wars are a result of disconnections in the systems at many different levels. 

We can start to repair these disconnections when we start to consciously pay attention to the big picture.  He talks persuasively about allowing the system to see itself.  (A lot of the time we are losing the forest for the trees).  If you want to read more about this method check out this article I wrote reviewing one of his books.

I’ll leave this section by quoting Otto who says:

The power of attention is the real superpower of our age.  Attention, aligned with intention, can make mountains move.

 

Space…the final frontier

The last thing we can connect to is the most mysterious, but in some ways the most powerful.  It is the silence and the space.

Claude Debussy famously said that music is the space between the notes.  The space between the notes allows them to ring, reverberate, breathe, and reach the full measure of their expression.  Without space in between the notes there would be an incomprehensible, stressful, cacophonic mess.

So, the starting point here is about letting your words breathe.  When you take a pause, your audience can take the time to think about your words, to let them land and to allow them to touch them. 

In that pause, you can be listening to your audience and feeling them, as they listen to you.  And by doing so you start to deepen in your connection to them.

In this way silence, when combined with deep listening can be a gateway into the state of Presence.  In the state of Presence not only are we present in the moment, in the here and now, but also feeling our connection to our selves, our audience, the wider world and beyond.

In that state of Presence, it is possible to connect to deeper knowing, to tap into the collective unconscious, and to intuit things that you didn’t know you knew.  It’s a place where everything seems to join up and you start to see the connections between things in new ways.  It’s a place of deep intelligence that isn’t yours or mine, but is in some way beyond us.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever had deep realisations about the world or your place in it.  In my experience, when I’ve had these realisations they have always come from this place.  From this silence.

There’s a part of me that wants to get apologetic for getting all “mystical” on you, and another part of me that doesn’t want to apologise at all.

There is deep power in connecting to and listening to silence.  I hope you discover it.

 

Putting it all together

So that’s what I’m interested in as a person, speaker, leader and coach of speakers and leaders.  Putting all of this together.  And that’s what I believe the very best speakers and leaders do.

They connect to themselves, their audience, their words, their environment and the space.

My passion is to share some of this love of connection and Presence with those I come into contact with, and perhaps to inspire others to do the same.  I hope that I’ve sparked some of this interest in you.

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As always, do let me know your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover some of this in person do check out our public speaking courses in London, or get in touch for some one to one coaching.

Daniel Kingsley
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