Happy Summer Olympics!
I always enjoy the Olympics and its been great watching the Rio games so far. My favorite Summer Olympics events are the gymnastics and equestrian competitions. The former because gymnasts capabilities boggle my brain and the latter because as a former Pony clubber (it’s a real thing, and it’s amazing), I love drawing on my amateur capabilities to commentate and speculate on the events.
As incredible as the athletic feats are, I am equally fascinated by the communication behaviors that occur on the “World Stage.” Given BeSpoke’s interests, how could I not be? It’s hard to think of an interesting factor of human experience that isn’t on view and up for discussion: emotion, pressure, triumph, loss, culture, gender, and social conditioning to name a few that regularly feature in coverage articles. All of this human experience occurs with cameras and commentary intensely spotlighting it, which athletes must reconcile as an additional layer in choosing how to communicate.
I’m convinced that with varying levels of consciousness, this smorgasbord of human interaction and behavior is just as much a draw to spectators as the flurry of arms and legs swimming the length of a pool. And maybe some of the fascination drives us to question what we would do in that scenario…how would our flashes of expression in victory and defeat be scrutinized? The podcast Hidden Brain has a fun piece on the science of analyzing this: http://www.npr.org/2016/08/02/487545238/olympic-victory-and-defeat-frame-by-frame. What I want to talk about is how we can learn from Olympians to take on our own World Stage moments with presence and gravitas.
Along with the rest of the world, I have been amazed by the performances from the United States women’s gymnastics team. Simone Biles has been setting the pace for the US team and the rest of the field. As a three-time all-around world champion it isn’t a surprise that she’s thriving in the highly pressurized Rio environment. And while her athletic prowess is dazzling, I am equally impressed by how grounded and open she is in the moments between competing. The communication skill generally proscribed to this behavior is Presence. She is not resisting being in the moment, which means her skills and instincts are not impeded by extraneous factors. She knows cameras and fans are watching and meets their collective gaze evenly, not allowing it to control her. The next time you find yourself on view, whether it’s a presentation, speech, audition, or wedding toast remember that energy expended on resisting being seen will draw energy from being fully available and present in performance. While you watch the Olympics see if you can spot how athletes use presence as an aid to competition.
Of course there are many other lovely communication skills on display at the Olympics, particularly around teamwork and nations coming together for the enjoyment and intensity of sport. There’s an optimism and joy in seeing the world come together, especially in a time where so much communication is polarized. So find your favorite events, watch some interesting back story interviews, and game on!
Let us know what interesting communication behavior you spot in your favorite events!
Take Good Care,
Lindsay and Christine