In the Spotlight: Documentaries

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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." Eileen Sinett, speech and

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.

Call 609-799-1400.

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

a room.

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:

Being real. The most compelling thing we can do is to

be real — to be authentically, genuinely ourselves. No one can

do that as well as we can.

Being fully present. This deep, powerful essence and relaxed

self-expression emerges naturally when we are fully seen and heard

in a safe, supportive environment.

Connecting. Connection is everything.

Receiving support. The key to connecting with any audience

is not knowing how to give to them, but knowing how to receive from


In other words, the roots of successful speaking can lie in

perfecting the art of not speaking.

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In the Spotlight: Documentaries

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.

Scott Nielsen, one of the speakers, has worked at every level

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.

Tom Spain, another speaker, has produced prize winning documentaries

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 Robert Goodman, who for the past 20 years

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 Paul A. Distefano of the production

equipment supplier Visual Sound Company in Broomall, Pennsylvania.

( He will be showing the Panasonic camera and

Avid equipment.

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