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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 19, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The Art of Not Speaking
There’s a wonderful sequence in the comedy Best of Show
where the buxom bimbo, interviewed with her wealthy superannuated
husband, tells a reporter "We have so much in common. We enjoy
talking, and not talking." She pauses, looks away, lost in thought,
and then adds, "Sometimes we spend hours just not talking."
The scene was played for laughs, but it turns out that there is a
real art to "not talking."
communications consultant to corporations and to individuals, uses
silence in the Speaking Circles sessions she facilitates from the
Plainsboro offices of her company, Comprehensive Communication Services
Just one of only two certified Speaking Circles coaches in New Jersey,
Sinett holds a session on Wednesday, February 19, at 7 p.m. Cost:
$50 for one session; $130 for three sessions; and $210 for five sessions.
Sinett, who grew up in New Jersey, holds a degree in speech pathology
from Emerson College (Class of 1971). She started her career in a
healthcare setting, first at Roosevelt Hospital and later at UMDNJ,
working with individuals whose speech problems had a medical basis.
Then, more than 20 years ago, she moved on to the communications issues
that nearly everyone confronts.
Her work with corporations runs the gamut from coaching executives
on making presentations to teaching resolution conflict skills to
teams. Her entree into the corporate world, she says, came in the
early 1980s when employers began to pay attention to issues related
to an increasingly multi-cultural workforce.
"It was a changing workforce," she says. Demand for everything
from accent modification to lessons in written English was up. Through
her work with multi-lingual professionals, she widened her circle
and gained a substantial corporate client base, while at the same
time seeing private clients.
For a number of people, speaking in public is terrifying. "I’ve
had clients quit rather than give a speech," says Sinett. Others
tell her they would prefer a cut in pay to the increased need to give
presentations that comes with professional advancement. Some people
have trouble organizing material and putting together a talk. Others
zip through this stage, but then forget what they are going to say.
Worse, some clients tell Sinett they black out if forced to stand
before an audience.
"It’s like their life is on the line," she says. "They
think `the spotlight’s on me, and I’m going to mess up’."
Interestingly, Sinett has encountered a number of people who have
no trouble giving a speech before an audience of hundreds, but who
blanche at the thought of attending a networking event. "It’s
about control," she says. For some, circulating in an unstructured
event is far more stressful than standing up and taking control of
For everyone, says Sinett, Speaking Circles is a way to get comfortable
speaking in any setting — whether it be the front of the auditorium
or somewhere in the middle of a hallway jammed with networkers.
She learned of the group, which was first introduced in the United
Kingdom in 1997, from a client. The woman had been working on her
presentation skills for six months and was looking for an opportunity
to practice on her own. She went to the Internet, and found Speaking
Circles. She saw there was a book — Be Heard Now! by Lee Glickstein
— read it, and told Sinett of her research.
"I checked it out," says Sinett. She went to a Speaking Circle
in Washington, D.C. and liked what she heard (and did not hear).
Speaking Circles, she explains, is similar to other
public speaking programs, Toastmasters, for instance, but is also
different. Restricted to just 10 people, each meeting allows every
participant two opportunities to speak — or not speak. Standing
in front of the group, first for two minutes, and then later in the
meeting for about five or six minutes, each person fixes his fellows
with what Sinett terms "a soft gaze." While doing so, the
"speaker" can speak — or not. Meanwhile, the rest of the
group pays close attention and provides strong, but non-verbal, support.
Meetings last two-and-a-half hours. Speeches are not prepared in advance,
as they are at Toastmasters. Participants speak extemporaneously,
and often about what is going on in their lives. There is no feedback
on content, as there is at a Toastmasters’ meeting. All feedback revolves
around things like bravery and presence.
The reason why the content of the talks is secondary, says Sinett,
is the fear of public speaking often is rooted in a fear of being
fully present, of being really seen. Even professionals — comedians
or motivational speakers, for example — often hold something back
when they speak, she says. In her opinion, "they’re cheating,
and they know they’re cheating."
Standing in front of a group, looking its members in the eye, and
receiving approval gives a tremendous boost to the poor self-esteem
behind many a speaking phobia, says Sinett.
Formerly a reluctant networker, she now takes her Speaking Circles
training along with her when she attends networking events. "When
I was with my peers I would feel like a little girl," she recounts.
"My heart would pound; I would feel small." Now, she says,
"all of that has gone away."
While she approached the Speaking Circles with an open mind, others
are skeptical. She speaks of a client, a pharmaceutical executive,
whose initial reaction was "Why are we doing this?" Sinett
asked her to be patient, and reports the woman has since told her
that "she feels so much closer to everybody at her company."
The program creates "an easy sense of connection," Sinett
Speaking Circles is built around what it terms the "four great
truths of public speaking. They are:
be real — to be authentically, genuinely ourselves. No one can
do that as well as we can.
self-expression emerges naturally when we are fully seen and heard
in a safe, supportive environment.
is not knowing how to give to them, but knowing how to receive from
perfecting the art of not speaking.
The Princeton Media Communications Association examines
every facet of documentary films when it meets on Wednesday, February
19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Sarnoff Corporation auditorium. Cost: $15.
Call 609-818-0025, ext.146.
This meeting examines the current state of documentary filmmaking,
focusing on new technologies for acquisition and editing, and for
marketing documentaries. Panasonic’s variable frame rate pro DV camera
and Avid’s DV Express will be on display.
of the motion picture industry as a cameraman, soundman, director,
editor, and producer — and even as a composer and lyricist. In
the years before co-founding Telequest, Scott produced documentaries
for PBS and taught filmmaking at Princeton University.
for prime-time broadcasts, including The Fire Next Door and America’s
First River, with Bill Moyers. He honed his skills in New York, producing
industrial films, and then moved to CBS where he worked on the archival
series the Twentieth Century and World War One.
The third speaker is
has been writing scripts and producing corporate and industrial video,
infomercials, and commercials. He has written books on production
techniques and is a regular contributor to video trade magazines.
In the past several years Goodman has shifted into documentary production,
completing both short and feature-length projects. His latest feature
opens this month at the Film Forum.
The meeting is sponsored by
equipment supplier Visual Sound Company in Broomall, Pennsylvania.
(www.visualsound.com). He will be showing the Panasonic camera and
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