I was speaking to a group of bank branch managers recently, delivering a keynote called The Crooked Yardstick. The title comes from a lesson my mom taught me years ago that if you measure material using a crooked yardstick, the finished garment will still look like it’s the right size but something will feel off to the person who puts it on—and they won’t be able to figure out what’s wrong because it looks right. My mom was a tremendously talented seamstress and a person of amazing intuition and insight.
The idea of the Crooked Yardstick talk is to help people examine the parts of their life, personally, professionally, and organizationally that look right but don’t feel quite right—something is off. And it doesn’t have to be something huge or off by much. It’s about learning to trust our intuitions.
During the talk I reference my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s at the end of his life and a powerful, indelible moment that happened in the final conversation we had. It sounds risky to put things like that in a talk—or a presentation. After all, I got choked up at a time when I didn’t expect it, but I just went with it. The audience did too.
After my talk, I had a couple of remarkable conversations with members of the audience. One was a woman who came up to me and choking back tears she said to me, “I lost my child a couple of years ago and today you reminded me to listen to my intuition. Thank you.” She took my breath away. I showed up that morning intending to talk to bankers about some of the challenges they faced with technological changes happening at a furious pace in their industry—as well as the rest of our industries. And I wound up getting a hug from a mother who had lost a child. Whoa.
No sooner had that conversation ended than another woman, about my age, walked up to me. She couldn’t talk through a veil of tears she was holding back at the rim of her eyes. She just walked up to me and gave me the biggest hug a stranger has ever wrapped around me.
I left that conference feeling a powerful connection—not just the connection we all want as speakers and presenters, but the connection of one human soul to another, the kind of connection that transcends words or descriptions but is so real we all feel it.
I made a decision at the start of that talk that I was going to share things from my heart, not just my head. In speeches and presentations we connect on one level when we share information and knowledge. I call that head communication. But we put ourselves in position to connect at a level that goes so far deeper than job descriptions and paychecks when we also dare to share from our heart. Sure it’s risky. It might not be seen as “appropriate” by everyone. I get that. But the hugs, the looks, and the emotions those two women shared with me reminded me of the importance of going beyond words and concepts and daring to peel back the layers of life and protection we all build up over time and sharing from our essential self, our heart, our unprotected, unfiltered genuine self.
Try it. Next meeting. Next presentation. Next speech. Go a little off course and dare to speak from the heart. I already hear your protests. What if I get fired for doing it? Then you didn’t belong there in the first place. Simple as that.
This world needs more heart, your heart. After all, yours is the only heart you can put out there. Pretty simple choice when you distill it down to the essentials. Either you share you, the real you, or you don’t. If you don’t share the real you, who will?