“I could never do what you do,” Rachel said. “But I really wish I could!”

We were chatting at a potluck on Saturday afternoon, after Rosh Hashanah services where I had been one of several song leaders, leading rounds from the elevated stage (or bimah) in the gym that was serving as our temporary sanctuary.*

In addition to leading rounds, the rabbi had recruited me to lead — and teach — a lively, new, call-and-response version of a traditional prayer.

I seem to have made quite an impact, because a number of people complimented me after services.

Rachel, though, went beyond just complimenting me.

“I could never do that,” she said. “I’m just so uncomfortable onstage.”

I had to laugh.

Because while it might look like I was born to the stage, nothing could be further from the truth!

My first experience with public speaking was in 4th grade, when Miss Uchida assigned each student in class one of the 50 United States, and informed us we would each be giving an oral report in front of the class.

I wanted to die.

The sheer terror of the day of my oral report will never leave me — dry mouth, stomach pains, hands shaking so hard I could barely hold my index cards.

I experienced similar shaking and abject terror when I had to perform in piano and violin recitals.

I do not recall these moments onstage feeling in the least bit fun.

Singing in choirs and playing violin and viola in the school orchestra were somewhat less traumatic, because I was part of a group — safety in numbers, and all that.

So how did I get from there to here, where not only do I appear comfortable onstage, but I actually really love being onstage?

For me, desire was the first step.

I remember attending music camp for the first time back in 2002, and watching in awe as another camper held everyone in thrall with her rendition of “Black Velvet.”

She owned that stage.

I couldn’t imagine having that kind of confidence at a microphone, but boy, did I wish I could. ​

While I doubt I’ll ever blow anyone away singing “Black Velvet” (it’s not the style or genre that plays to my strengths), when I perform or speak these days, I am told frequently that I “own the stage.”

But I was not born that way!

Getting to that place has been a long journey of small steps, including:

  • Being part of a team of song leaders at my synagogue. At first, this made me incredibly nervous — dry mouth, unable to draw breath, shaking hands — but over time, I became more comfortable.
  • Leading services for small groups. Then larger groups. (See above about the nervousness!)
  • Taking jazz singing classes, and singing at jam sessions. (Ditto!)
  • Taking improv classes, and performing improv. (Ditto!)

Each new variable would throw me off my game:

  • I have to hold a microphone? Egad! How does this work? (Cue the dry mouth, inability to draw breath, and shaking.)
  • I have to count off a band? Yikes! How do I do that? (Cue the dry mouth, etc.)
  • I have to make up stuff in front of an audience! GAAAHHH!!! (Cue the butterflies and dry mouth, etc.)

At one point, I remember realizing I was finally confident and comfortable singing onstage… as long as I was singing in a familiar venue. Put me in a new location, though, and it would throw me off!

Now, after literally decades of stage time, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with stages, and yes, I love being onstage, but I still get nervous.

The higher the stakes, the greater the nerves.

So if I’m speaking in front of a big audience of friendly peers, as I did a couple of months ago at the Applied Improvisation Network world conference in Vancouver, Canada, I might have a mild case of butterflies (because, of course, I want to do a good job!)

On the other hand, if I’m auditioning in front of a tiny panel, where the stakes are very high, my nerves will go through the roof! (Cue the dry mouth and shaking!)

Which also tells me that I haven’t auditioned enough in order for this scenario to become something I’m accustomed to.

Because here’s the truth:

If you do something enough, it will become normal.

So what does all of this have to do with communicating for influence and impact, getting stakeholders to listen to you, and getting a seat at the table?

​In short: there are no shortcuts. True transformation takes time.

If you want to change behaviors, adapt new mindsets, develop new skill sets, and build new tool kits, a one-shot training won’t get you there.

Just as Rachel yearns to be more comfortable onstage, your team may wish they could get stakeholders to listen to them.

You may want greater impact and influence, “a seat at the table.”

The transformation that will lead to these results doesn’t happen from a quick fix.

That’s not to say you won’t have flashes of insight that lead to immediate shifts — in fact, I see this happen all the time in the programs I run for my clients.

But because I’m working with teams to build habits and develop new metaphorical muscles, the organizations that see the best results work with me strategically, over the long-term — typically a year or longer.

I’ll say it again:

​Transformation takes time.

If you want to become comfortable on stage, it requires a lot of time on stages. There are no short cuts.

If you want to have a seat at the table you need to:

🧠 Transform your MINDSET

💪 Build your SKILL SET

🧰 Develop your TOOL KIT

And you need to put the time in to build these particular “muscles” so they become your “new normal.”

When everyone on the team (and ideally, throughout your organization) is working together to build new habits, you start to develop a shared vocabulary, and can support each other as you keep moving toward your goal.

Are you ready? Maybe this time next year it will be somebody else saying to you, “I could never do what you do, but I really wish I could!”

*Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, which takes place ten days later) together make up the High Holy Days. This is the one time of year that Jews who otherwise never attend religious services actually show up at synagogue. Most synagogues can’t accommodate the crowd in their own building, so they rent space elsewhere, which is why I was in a gym.​

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