I had my new rhetorical class for women only all set up. We would talk about voice control, learn how to break cute habits, and do some grounding exercises. We would grow tall and proud and talk like real people, not dolls. I had a deck of ten slides, each one lovingly prepared, each one supporting my points, each one a stimulus for conversation.
I also had audio, I had video, I had stories, I had a basket full of breathing exercises. Everything was picture book perfect. Including the weather. Bright enough to lighten up the room, not bright enough to make the slideshow hard to see or to make you wish you were somewhere else.
It is 10.00. Time to start. In walks the last participant. Steaming with fury. Full to the brim with a story she is bursting to share.
I press »B« on my keyboard and invite her to tell us what has happened.
It is a three sentence story about being over charged at a gas station for a service that she had not asked for in the first place. No big deal, but as a student she cannot really afford to be that generous, and as a woman she should not have to put up with being treated like a child.
»And what did you say in return?«, I ask, when she has finished.
She is still glowing. »I said: Forget it, and walked away.«
And nothing I have prepared could be more impressive than this real life anger in her voice and her movements.
I take it from there and turn off the projector.
And we talk and practice, and talk and role play, and don’t talk and breathe, and practice some more, until we all feel we have grown an inch or two.
I still show them the ten slides, a successful hour and a half later. They work great as a three-minute summary. A nice list of images. A nice list of ideas to take home and work on.
The real lesson today though was provided by life and common sense: When working with people, all you need is people, really. And a bit of imagination, and the courage to turn off the projector, once in a while, and see what happens next. You might actually like it.