Who are you?

I’m a speechwriter, with a yearning to be more involved in public life.

I was told by a friend (a graduate of Sandhurst officer training) that I should do The Mastery of Self-Expression weekend. It was the best workshop he’d ever done. I trusted him, paid the fee and showed up, without doing much research into what I was letting myself in for.

For preparation, I had to learn a piece to perform (it could be a speech, mime, dance, song or poem)

It had to be at least two minutes long. I decided to refamiliarise myself with a poem I memorised at school. It was in German.

Many of the lines were embedded in my mind, which meant that when I came to deliver it, I could experiment. In retrospect that helped me get the maximum amount out of the workshop.

Many of the acting exercises were the sort I had witnessed before. I’m 51 now so I don’t have so much of a problem with being self-conscious. Dancing, standing up in front of an audience, acting out anger, that’s okay.

Whereas before I’d always suffered from nerves and memory problems when reciting lines, the atmosphere at The Mastery was so laid-back I wasn’t worried at all. I recited the poem almost perfectly and got to ham it up in a way I really enjoyed.

It was where the three trainers invited me to go after listening to my contribution, that pushed me ‘over the edge’. I was invited to take risks. And I could go ahead and take those risks, in the moment, in front of 20 or so people, who were willing to give me feedback.

That was where the workshop caught me off-guard.

As a speechwriter, I urge my speakers to take risks. Most of the time it doesn’t work. The way we speak ensures that in most interactions we get the same results. Changing the way we speak will produce different results.

Why would anyone in a high-status position want to do that? In fact, try to get a shy father-of-the-bride to deliver some bold rhetorical lines – he feels much more comfortable scrubbing them out and changing a three-part list into a fudged group of five clauses.

I came away from The Mastery aware of a different dimension to communication.

The original creator of the workshop noticed that what marked out ordinary actors from great actors was their ability to express vulnerability. The workshop was designed to provide a safe space where actors could experiment with their vulnerabilities.

The founder discovered that the format helped actors but it also had a profound impact on people from other walks of life who had to lead, perform or face a dilemma in their life.

The evaluations I got from my fellow delegates took me by surprise. On the Friday evening I presented ‘conventional’ Brian. ‘Conventional’ Brian is a self-employed entrepreneur and dad who can tell some lightly amusing stories.

On the Saturday evening, I was urged to play ‘shadow’ Brian.

‘Shadow’ Brian is a villain, screaming orders at others and expressing dark urges. Think the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This didn’t come out of nowhere. It turns out the poem I recited had darker depths than I was conscious of.

The results were very disorientating. Even more disconcerting was the fact that my evaluations said that I seemed rather boring on the Friday night: Saturday night Brian was much more engaging! How was I to deal with that?

I loved the whole ‘experience’. We were ‘in session’ for over 24 hours during the weekend and it was exhausting. I got to observe the hang-ups of my fellow delegates. It was intimate, scary and fun! But I was puzzled by the powerful feelings that it brought up in me in the moment, and in the weeks after the workshop.

When I did some research, I realised I was not the only one. In 2010 Christina Kimberley published a book On the Edge about the impact The Mastery of Self-Expression has had on all kinds of people around the world.

This thing has been going for over 40 years. It’s been changing people’s lives for all that time. It’s got its influences in Hollywood, therapy, Ayn Rand and many other self-actualisation workshops.

It’s been used with AIDS patients, Asperger’s sufferers and in efforts to reconcile Israelis with Palestinians.

As I mentioned. I’m 51. I’m so glad I took the workshop now. I’m at the beginning of the ‘third act’ in my life – I’ve got 10-15 more years to do the things I want to do. Since being on The Mastery, I’ve felt a strong drive to take action and be more expressive as well as questioning my communication strategies.

I’m more familiar with political and business circles than theatre ones, and I could see that this workshop would be an extremely valuable for anyone in public life who isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of creating an emotional connection with an audience. 

Why is this important? Well, in public life in 2020, emotional connection is prized above competence. Trump and Johnson let it all hang out. And they’re winning elections. Top politicians in the 2020s need to be at ease on the breakfast TV sofa.   

When a journalist says a politician is ‘wooden’ or ‘boring’, what can the politician do about it? My suggestion is that they start by enrolling on The Mastery of Self Expression weekend.

Also, if you’re an expert who wants to take a message to the world, but you’re underpowered as a presenter, you’ll get a huge amount out of The Mastery.

The education I had at university in no way prepared me to be ‘vulnerable’ – quite the opposite.

This workshop gave me an insight into what it might be like to do something different.

But I am not doing justice to the seriously ‘weird’ experience it was. I got a fresh insight into ‘life’. I have a new perspective.

I spoke with the team who put on my workshop and I asked them if I could host a Mastery of Self-Expression weekend in a private venue in Bournemouth from Friday 26 to Sunday 28 June 2020.

We have sixteen places available. Are you tempted?

It costs £2000 + VAT. Here’s the Eventbrite page if you wish to register.

1 Comment

  1. Emily Nakai

    This is brilliant! I am with the organizing team for the Mastery of Self Expression workshops that happen here in Vancouver, Canada. We have a workshop being led by Larry Gilman who has been leading the workshops here since 1982 — the dates are April 19 to 21.

    Thank you for sharing this! My Mastery workshop experiences (I have done it more than once) have been equally impactful and powerful! My life has been changed forever and it is my mission to share this as widely as I can as it can change lives, relationships, workplaces, communities, and could even change the world if we can get the word out.

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