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The audience is a gift- Engage the audience

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Stagefright interferes tremendously with performers, persuaders and salespeople from benefiting from the gift of an audience. A live audience provides the actor with instant feedback that is not available to a musician in a studio, a politician in front of a camera in his or her office, nor a lawyer talking to a judge during a conference call without being able to observe and experience the judge’s facial expressions, body language, and full essence.

I once watched in delighted dismay as an opposing lawyer read the jury his closing argument nearly word-for-word. What a missed opportunity he had to engage the jury.

My experience observing Bernie Sanders speak has been pretty much limited to my hearing and speaking with him at a fundraiser over twenty years ago, and currently catching snippets of him on YouTube and the radio. At first blush, he seems much more like the real McCoy in his manner of speaking, than the overly scripted Hillary Clinton, and all Democratic presidential candidates from Michael Dukakis to Barack Obama, except for the folksy Bill Clinton.

However, how well has Bernie taken the full opportunity to engage his audiences during the course of his campaign? One does not need to be a natural extrovert to engage others.

South Carolina State Senator Gilda Cobb-Hunter said of Sanders, apparently from his campaigning months ago in her state: “Bless his heart, I don’t think he has been around people of color a lot… I saw him speak, and he didn’t slow down. He didn’t read his audience — body language, faces, a certain cadence. No slowing down to receive or acknowledge affirmation or an ‘Amen’ here or there. He was brusque. He didn’t appear to feel comfortable — and it showed.”

The power of the pause cannot be underestimated, which of course still is second fiddle to fully engaging others. When we fully engage others, the rest flows naturally, including the right body language and cadence, both of which Gilda Cobb-Hunter referenced. Barack Obama pauses plenty, and too much, sounding too controlled rather than natural, which of course all of his Democratic nominee predecessors since Al Gore have afflicted themselves with.

The Washington Post this week claims that Sanders now connects better with a good cross section of audience members. Of course, his campaign would have benefited much more had he connected better at the get-go. Now, we are likely to have as president either the overly-hawkish/email-gate Hillary Clinton, or the even scarier Donald Trump, who plays into the hands of xenophobes and racists, and would make much worse judicial appointments than would Hillary Clinton.

Armor might seem to protect a speaker from ridicule and embarrassment, but armor is impermeable, and does not breed trust. A great martial artist fights without armor, and can only sense who his or her friends and foes are in the moment — and what their pulse and rhythm is — by shedding the armor so that s/he may be in touch with the very people s/he is trying to engage.

Recently, I talked to a prosecutor to see where we could narrow any differing points before we both appeared at a hearing on a discovery motion I had filed. The prosecutor started off harrumphing about my even having taken his time to need to have a hearing in the first place. Had I weighed into the prosecutor that a mini-lecture format was not needed, I would have missed the gold he offered up during that seeming mini-lecture, to pretty much give me what I was seeking from the judge in my discovery motion. Success, then, was obtained before the hearing had even started, by my giving the prosecutor what he wanted — without kissing his butt, of course — which was to let him get his thoughts off his chest, while I engaged him fully while keeping my eyes and ears open for flecks of gold in his diatribe. This mini-success resulted from keeping off the armor, and fully engaging the opponent.

We are all connected and all spring from the same original source. Once we accept that we all are connected, we will have less stagefright — just as few people fear their own shadow — and will fully engage with others, even with opponents, and with life. The alternative is unthinkable.