Proprioception – a missing book chapter? (Possibly!)

If you type proprioception into google you get the definition on the left. So what is it for? It allows you to know where you are so that you don’t need to look at your proprioception google search resultlimbs to know what they’re doing. It’s what you’ve not got a lot of if you’re clumsy, perhaps – and it’s what’s allowing me to touch-type this. I know where my hands and fingers are without looking at the keyboard.  (Mind you, given how many mistakes I’m making, my proprioception appears to be a bit off, today!). One way of thinking of it is as the body’s internal version of touch. Touch tells us about how we are in relation to the outside world and proprioception tells us about how we are to different parts of ourselves (as well).

It’s a part of your body’s sense of itself – what Howard Gardner would have referred to as kinesthetic intelligence. I’m not talking about our mental image of ourself here, but the more literal one of who we physically register ourselves. (There’s no doubt that our mental perceptions are important, but…

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Actually, it’s these mistakes and my ‘offness’ that prompted me to get around to writing this blog post: it’s a chapter I didn’t include in the book but now I’m almost wishing I had because it’s become more important to me. I’ve got a sprained and lightly inflamed ankle and a missing tooth. Small though these things are in the grand scheme of things they’re seriously affecting my body’s perception of itself… and I have to admit they’re affecting my performance – on and off stage – more than I want to admit.
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We’re not equally aware of all parts of our body – some bits are more sensitive than others.

In fact, if we re-scale our bodies according to how sensitive they are, we get something like this ‘humonculous’.

Credit to The Masks We Wear blog!
Credit to The Masks We Wear blog!

Notice how big the hands are compared to how they are in reality – and the same for the face, particularly the mouth. So in one way, it’s hardly a surprise that I’m a little off my game because of a missing tooth etc. Think about your last trip to the dentist – even small changes feel huge when you explore them with your tongue (despite, I guess, your dentist saying you should try and avoid poking around too soon after surgery! 🙂 )

What’s important here, as a presenter, is that

  1. we’re very sensitive to things which put us off our game, such as even relatively minor injuries
  2. when we’re suffering an injury, we dedicate a proportion of our brain to dealing with it
  3. this reduces the amount of brain processing power we have spare to concentrate on our presentations

Of course, it’s not just injuries that can do this to us. Anything that puts off our game has the same effect. Badly fitting shoes have that effect, for example. Personally I can remember being put off my game (just a little!) by something as simple as a tiny crack in the casing of my remote control!

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So what is a presenter to do about the ease with which we can put ourselves off..?

Like so much in presenting the solution is simple in principle but more challenging to apply. Simply remove all the ‘internal distractions’ you can. Let me give you an example.

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I don’t like taking drugs. I’d rather be a bit more au natural. When I need them I use them (I’m not stupid!) but I don’t reach for them unless and until I really need them. But when I’m on stage now, with a sprained ankle I make a point of having the ankle strapped up (and strapped up correctly!) but I also take some ibuprofen as a pain killer and anti- inflammatory. The result is one less thing to deal with on stage. All it takes is a bit of forethought and my trusty iPhone reminds me to take the necessary tables at the right time before the presentation starts. It’s not rocket science but you’d be amazed at how powerful the aggregation of such simple tools can be.
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Britain is a leading nation in terms of competitive cycling. In fact we did so well in the most recent Olympic games that France even accused Britain of having ‘magic wheels’.  (What? Our wheels are more round than yours?  Please!) It’s not magic and it’s famously not one big tool, trick or technique. It’s the incremental increase in lots and lots of tiny improvements, all of which feed on each other. So it is with your presentation: if you can remove lots and lots of these small distractions then you’re in a better place to deliver your presentation. Let’s face it, not many things are hugely difficult – all you need to do is remember to do them.

That, ladies and gentlemen, are what checklists are for!

Our checklists are called (as an inside-the-company joke) our Ties And Flies lists (the joke being that the last thing to get checked before starting a presentation is that ties and flies are fastened properly. By the time a presentation starts, everything that can be checked has been, freeing up a much-bigger-than-you-would-expect part of our brain to concentrate on what it should be targeted at – our message and our audience.

In the end, it’s all very simple!

Simon says...

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