January 17, 2014

Connecting without words: Lessons from Jason Brown's performance



It's that time again, when the ramp-up to the Olympics is ... rampant. There are national championships galore, in just about every winter sport, and you can start getting your Olympics fix right now, weeks before the games begin.

I'm a figure skating fan, but I missed the U.S. Nationals, which is why I was intrigued when I started seeing Jason Brown's name all over social media. He's a young skater, just a year out of the junior ranks, but he must have done something pretty amazing to warrant so much attention. So I watched.

The announcer gives a little hint right up front at what makes Jason Brown so notable: his ability to connect with the audience. When you watch this performance, I think you'll agree that he's a master of connection. And yes, all while skating, doing impossible jumps, footwork and spins -- and while not speaking a word.



If you can't see the player, click this link to watch on YouTube.

Watch how he times his jumps and gestures for when he's directly in front of the audience. Watch how he makes direct eye contact, even as he's whizzing by them at high speed. Watch the smiles and facial expressions that demonstrate his enjoyment and the fun he's having on the ice. Watch the audience rise to their feet in a standing ovation before the routine is even over. They just couldn't control themselves!

There are figure skaters who clearly take themselves too seriously. They never smile. They never connect with the audience. They seem to be in their own little world, focusing on not making mistakes and on technical elements. And there are speakers who do the same thing.

In this sport, however, competitors are judged not just on their technical proficiency, but also on performance, interpretation and other artistic elements. As are speakers when they stand up in front of an audience. Performance is necessary. Entertainment value is critical. To those of you who think speakers must be serious and somber and pompous and grim in order to be taken seriously, you are missing a huge emotional component. Your score will suffer.

Which is why young Jason Brown, with only a year of senior competition under his belt, came in second to veteran skater Jeremy Abbott and was chosen as only one of two American men to skate at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

How are you finding ways to connect with your audiences... without words?

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