8 Questions with Performance Coach Victoria Labalme

By Sean Platt

Sean:  Hi there everyone and welcome to Eight Questions. Today I’m talking to Victoria Labalme. She is a performing artist and a performance coach, and I’ve never talked to a performance coach before.

(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the 8 Questions Podcast)

This is kind of a big deal, and in the realm of performance coaches, I think she’s the biggest.

She’s talked to big, big corporate clients like Microsoft, IBM, Starbucks, Paypal, but she also hosts events where she can talk to a lot more people in one space.

We met because my friend, J.B., he introduced us and he said Victoria’s thinking about writing a book and she has questions about indie versus self-publishing and can you please talk to her.

And I think both of us were a little nervous because it’s one of those intros where you don’t know who you’re being introduced to, but you really like the person introducing you so let’s see where this goes. And so that was about a month ago and we had just a fantastic phone call and I just like Victoria so much and I thought you would really appreciate her view of the world.

So welcome, Victoria!

Victoria:  I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me, and hello everyone.

Sean:  My absolute pleasure, and I just know that there were about ten or fifteen things that were said during that call where I just thought oh, wow, you would be a great interview.

And just your whole premise that communication is art I think is wonderful.

That’s what we all do. I think it’s easy for those of us who write or paint or make music or film or whatever it is that we do, but really just living if you do it the right way is art. And the way we communicate with people, whether through the things that we craft, through our work and our intentions, but just our language.

The language that we use or the body language that we use to kind of orchestrate our life, that’s what you do professionally and I find that fascinating.

Victoria:  Excellent.

Sean:  So I guess we’ll get started with question number one. What is the number one mistake people make in day-to-day communication?

 Victoria:  Well, the number one mistake I see made, and this goes for communication in a phone, it could be even in a podcast interview, it could be on a keynote stage, sales meeting.

Any time you present is that people tend to focus too much on the information they want to convey and not enough on the experience the other person or people are having.

Because what we do is we say okay, I’ve got to get all these points across and then we have like what I call is a tennis ball machine of information just coming at us tennis ball after tennis ball.

Sean:  Or a fire hose, right?

Victoria:  Or a fire hose.

Sean:  You just can’t turn it off.

Victoria:  You can’t just turn it off. Exactly. So you really want to take the audience on a journey and turn it into an experience.

Sean:  Right. So we just recently had The Smarter Artist Summit, which was our first event that we ever held for more than a couple of dozen people and it was kind of big. We had seven speakers and it so wasn’t about the information.

Because of course you want to go to a conference like that and you want to learn something, but really we knew we were inviting a lot of introverts. So we had an introvert space upstairs where if it got too much for you downstairs you could just go up there. The rule was no talking upstairs. No talking. No conversation.

And we did other things that I think did a lot to silently communicate the vibe that we wanted.

So we didn’t have a stage. The presenters were on ground floor with the rest of us and we just had four stools so at any time the three of us would sit there, me, Johnny and Dave and then we would have our speaker there and it was kind of a discussion the whole time instead of a talking at the audience.

Victoria:  Love it.

Sean:  And that was something that constantly people kept saying that this isn’t what I expected. This isn’t the feeling that I thought. Because we are communicating to you that look, there is no hierarchy here, we’re all in this together.

And I didn’t even think about that at the time, but that’s what a lot of attendees said.

And it is that we don’t want to give them the fire hose. We don’t want to give them the endless tennis balls. We wanted them to be invited into a conversation, I guess.

Victoria:  That’s right. It’s exactly right. Part of what happens with any situations, even the set-up like you were talking about that you were all on the same level, but it wasn’t a hierarchy, is profound.

I mean you go into someone’s office and they’re communicating their authority by the fact that they’re in a high-back leather chair and you’re sitting like a little minion on a chair in front of their desk.

So we’re always kind of communicating our intention.

Sean:  Right. If you look at like a Cohen brothers movies, right, half of them have the scene with the big boss man behind the big giant desk.

Victoria:  Right.

Sean:  Right. Somebody has to come in and they’re just immediately subservient, and that’s not – I don’t know, there’s just such a barrier that you immediately place and we wanted to strip that.

So I know you talk to a lot of entrepreneurs too, right.

Victoria:  Yes.

Sean:  You kind of coach them before they get on stage and a lot of people listening to this podcast are creative entrepreneurs, right. They’re people who are going out to make their living with their art.

So what are some of the biggest mistakes that you see entrepreneurs making on camera when they’re having difficult kind of broadcasting their message?

 Victoria:  Well, it’s a few different elements that will come up. One of them has to do with what I call the through-line, and that is your intention behind any communication.

As you know from theater, it’s a theater term that Stanislavsky coined, the through-line is the driving force behind a character’s behavior in a play.

So I like to think of that through-line in any scene. So let’s say your scene right now is to get on camera and communicate to your audience. When you get nervous on camera it’s because your through-lines is poked and forwarded to yourself.

So it’s oh, I’m nervous, am I confident enough, am I looking good, am I covering all my key points, do I think I’m smart?

And because you’re thinking about yourself you’re going to be nervous.

So if your through-line is directed towards your audience, to help, to share, to serve, to inspire, to encourage, if it’s there in that point of service, you will not be nervous.

The first mistake people make is they focus on themselves.

Sean:  Okay. So that’s really interesting, because again a lot of people who are listening to this write. And really a lot of entrepreneurs these days are writing anyway, right, because they’re connecting with their audience, they’re writing blogs or whatever they’re doing to broadcast their message.

So if you think about being interviewed, whether it’s on stage or on a podcast or wherever it is, and you don’t want to be nervous, you should just kind of write the scene for yourself ahead of time, right.

Treat yourself as a character in a scene, and if you think about it that way then you can remove yourself enough to give yourself the distance to not overthink it.

Victoria:  Yes, I hadn’t thought of it that way. That’s interesting. I hadn’t considered that.

Mostly what I think about is the audience. So whoever it is that you as your entrepreneur, think of yourself as the entrepreneur. You’re out there, you’re trying to share a message and help other people ultimately, and get your word out.

So yes, if you focus on them it’s very different.

Sean:  So we do want to think about what would I want if I were in the audience, what would I want to get from this conversation the most?

Victoria:  Well, yes. I mean let’s talk about this podcast that we’re on right now. So you and I had a mutual intention here is to give as much value to the listeners as we can in the time that we have.

And so I’m listening as carefully as I can to your questions and thinking what do I have in my basket of material and value that will really give the listener something they can take away with and learn from? So that’s where my focus is.

Sean: Excellent. So what’s the best creative advice you’ve ever been given?

Victoria:  Do what stops time for you.

Sean:  Oh, I like that. Say more things like that.

Victoria. No one gave me that advice. There’s a great line that I share a lot from Bob Dylan. He said the purpose of art is to stop time.

Sean:  Wow, that’s really great.

Victoria:  I think great art does stop time. You know when you see your favorite TV show, your off of what I call your conveyor belt of life, which is everything’s crazy busy. And then all of a sudden you’re in this TV show and you’re out of time. Or you go to a movie and you’re out of time.

And I think for each of us there’s an activity or a series of activities which when we do them, time stops.

So whatever that is for you, if you can get into that space where you’re out of your conveyor belt and stress and say this is what I love.

And I always say you know what razzes your berry? What lights you up? What stops time for you, and if you can go to that place you’ll create beautiful material that is probably pretty unique.

Sean:  So basically find your flow. Like only work on those things that are easy to find your flow.

Because you know sometimes writing can be such a struggle, right, just facing the blank page and it can feel really defeating. But then you can write for an hour or two and it’s almost like getting runner’s high.

You can run and run really, really hard, but then if you run just long enough you break through some point and it just becomes time stops, right.

Victoria:  Yes.

Sean:  And writing’s the same. You can get into that fugue where you don’t even remember writing but there’s this beautiful thing that came out.

Is that an example of time just stopping?

Victoria:  I think so. I think so. And there’s a great performing artist named Michael Motion who gave me great advice on this flow piece as well.

He said to me years ago “Under what conditions do you do your best work?

And I think you have in one of your podcasts, Sean I was listening to you talk about that, do what’s right for you. Some people get up at 5:30 and they write then, but that’s not necessarily the way for everyone.

So you think what are the conditions under which I do my best work, whether that’s alone, with people around, in a library, early in the morning, when I’m working on this, when I dance before, whatever that is.

So you want to set yourself up for success.

Sean:  So you should never try and follow what other people are doing just because – okay, there’s this artist that I really like and he reads every day between 7:00 and 8:00 while drinking his coffee. So if I read between 7:00 and 8:00 every day while drinking my coffee, my art is going to be amazing.

Because you don’t do that because that’s what stops time for him not for you, and you really have to listen to yourself.

Victoria:  Yes, completely. I think we can certainly take lessons from how other people have achieved success. We can say oh, that’s an interesting technique. But we have to put together our own concoction of that.

Sean:  Do you think that there’s an amount of trust with – I mean self-trust where you have to believe that well, I will find my way of doing things and it will be right for me, and I should stop looking for answers and start listening to my internal?

Because I think some of us, especially now, the world moves fast, we’re always checking out phones. We don’t really slow down, and if we’re not slowing down enough how do we know when time stops?

Victoria:  Yes. That’s definitely true. I mean I think we can be sort of in a busy day and still feel like we’re connected and time has stopped.

I can go through eighteen different activities in a day but I’m so present because I’m loving those activities as the day is going through. So you’re sort of like on a train and the train is moving fast, but for you you’re stopped because you’re in your world of activity.

The day goes by and you just wake up and go I cannot believe it’s 10:00 at night, that was a good day.

Sean:  Yes, I love those feelings, yes.

Victoria:  Right?

Sean:  Right, because you do have the days that are the opposite. So I guess looking at the converse is true too. When there are those days that just drag by and you’re thinking okay, well, clearly something was wrong with this day. Time did not stop for me. I need less of those activities.

Victoria:  Absolutely. And if you can batch those into one icky day when you do your taxes and your finances and you deal with your lawyer and all those things that we all dislike so much, it’s almost like get that shit done.

Sean:  Yes. The barf day.

Victoria:  The barf day, yes. And I want to touch on another creative element because you’d asked about what helps us creatively, and I think part of it is what I call trust the idea that will lead to the idea.

So when I work with speakers or people presenting, or even putting together a book or some creative project, I say you know I work with index cards. We call them V-cards. And I just say write down the idea, even if you don’t know why you’re writing it down.

I don’t think Shakespeare planned everything out in advance. I think these ideas come creatively and that ingenuity and genius comes for reasons we don’t always understand.

So rather than like shut it down right away, just write it on an index card, a V-card, and see where it leads.

Part of that is getting out all of those unexpected, uncertain – I always say curiosity, interest and whimsy are enough to go on.

Sean:  Yes. I couldn’t agree more. I also think it’s okay sometimes to have faith that the really good ideas circle back, right.

Victoria:  Yes.

Sean:  So when I was first starting out writing or just kind of building anything online, I was so afraid of losing every little idea.

Like okay that idea is great, I can’t lose it and I’d scribble just everywhere. Not on index cards, because I was never that organized, it was just in notebooks. I would write everything down.

But after eight years I have a lot of faith in my brain and I know that I don’t have to worry about every single idea because the good ones do come back around.

They may be a different form, but they do circle and you just have to have faith in your own brain’s patterns to know that okay, it may not repeat but it will at least echo. So you have to have faith in that.

So I know you work on a lot of different stuff. You work with a lot of different people, a lot of different kinds of people. I think you’re kind of always moving.

What’s your process for deciding what project you want to work on and how has that process evolved over time?

 Victoria:  Wow, that’s a really good question. I love that question.

Well, decision making is not the easiest thing for me. I actually have a new phrase which is I think decisiveness is overrated.

Sean:  I agree with that.

Victoria:  I think part of our indecision can come when we’re trying to figure out what to do, what to take on. We’re in a process and sometimes we don’t have enough information.

I think as our career develops we make decisions based differently.

So in the early phases of my career I was just trying to build credibility and develop skills and do projects that were fun and interesting and make a living.

And now I’m at a place where I have different criteria by which I judge things. It’s got to be fun. It’s got to light me up. The thought of it has to be like this is fun.

Sean:  It has to stop time for you.

Victoria:  Yes. I mean I just have to go like yes, this lights me up. So it’s got to have that feeling to it.

Depending on where you are in your career for each person listening, some of it has to do with finances, is this going to bring in the income. But it could also be is this going to build my skill set? Is this going to stretch me, grow me? Is it going to challenge me in new ways?

If you’re in a place in your career where you need positioning, it could be is this going to build credibility? Is this the name I want to be associated with?

Sean:  So a lot of legacy decisions too. Not just what lights me up right now, but what’s going to make a difference later and long-term?

Victoria:  Yes, and again, that later and long-term legacy has to do with where you are in your career because if you’ve achieved a lot of fame and success there may be other types of things you want to leave behind.

Whereas if you’re still trying to get on top of that mountain for you, whatever that is, you may need to put some bricks in place.

So for me, right now I really love working with influencers. I said this to you before, I have a client on Oprah tomorrow and that’s been really fun because the work that we’re doing is going to affect literally millions of people’s lives, or when I’m working with an executive at Starbucks, I can see the message going out to thousands of people.

When I speak in front of a big audience, I mean that’s a real thrill and at the same time I’m always happy to help anyone I can. If it’s just someone who needs a piece of guidance on communication skills, if I can get material to them and help them in any way, I’m in.

Because I feel like we all have this art within ourselves and my goal, my through-line is to help people express themselves.

Sean:  Very well said.

If you could have one do-over what would it be?

 Victoria:  Oh, gosh, these are such good questions!

Sean:  You’re smiling so big.

Victoria:  I am because I love the question and I want to give it a really good answer. So let me just take a moment to think.

What is a do-over I would – I think probably for me I was the youngest of four. I was an artist and I felt coming into the career like I had to kind of prove myself in the corporate market.

So I spent a lot of energy early on, like building these corporate names into my list. And I have them but I think part of me shut down some of the art inside of me, the silliness and the whimsy and I regret not expressing some of that sooner in everything that I was doing.

So I think it would have slightly taken me down a different path.

And I’m thrilled with the path I have and now I’m going to add to it, but I think I was afraid – and I think we all have this. I think at some level we’re still trying to prove ourselves.

And I think I was the youngest of four, a little girl still trying to prove that I can work with the big boys, like Starbucks and Microsoft you know. And it’s like okay, I did that. I’ve proven myself.

My friend said to me how much more proving do you have to do? And I was like okay, okay.

So I think had I come from a different place earlier on, that would have been fun, just more fun.

Sean:  Okay. That’s actually a good segue, how much proving do I have to do. I read that you’re in Speaker Hall of Fame, which is just kind of fantastic.

Victoria:  Thank you.

Sean:  And as awesome as that is, do you still feel nervous when you take the stage?

Victoria:  I do, and it’s funny, I was just talking to somebody about this. I wouldn’t say I feel nervous. I feel pressure and a little bit of like anxiety, and I think a little worried always because I want to do a great job.

And there’s a wonderful quote from the great French mime, Marcel Marceau – and the mime jokes, oh, mime talks, all of that.  Anyway, Marcel Marceau was a mentor of mine. I spent a lot of time studying with him and he said once this great line.

He said the amateur is always pleased with themselves but the professional is too toujours inquiet, is always worried because they know their life depends on what they do.

And I always say to my clients, the fact that you’re pressured and feeling a little anxious before you go on stage is a good sign because it shows that you care.

Sean:  Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly where I was going to take it. If you ever get really so comfortable that you don’t have butterflies then are you taking your audience for granted? Are you taking your message for granted? Have you stopped being human?

Victoria:  Yes.

Sean:  Because I am very, very married to my wife. Like we are absolute best friends and you know still, I want her to think the best of me. I still take her hand and get a little chill when it’s date day on Wednesday and we leave the house together.

You know because I don’t want to ever take her for granted. I don’t ever want to lose that little flutter.

And so I think it’s the same thing but on a macro level. If you’re stepping on stage and you’re just looking out like yes, when’s this going to be over, there’s something, I don’t know, just really wrong with that.

Victoria:  Yes.

Sean:  It’s wonderful to hear that even people who are so comfortable with it, that clearly they’re awarded a place in the Hall of Fame, are still nervous because they care about the message. I think that’s fantastic.

Victoria:  Right, right. And there’s a line from Marceau which is part of this book that I’m working on that you and I talked about. He used to say risque avant, which is like risk forward. And the position of risque avant was a physical position is your heart is forward, like you’re a little forward with your heart open.

And a lot of performers, a lot of people in life, and this is true for a lot of authors, we kind of shrink back, we physically like concave our chest.

And I always say, you know, you want to put your heart forward. And so I think when you’re risking forward, in your life and on stage and in your book or your writing or your art, it’s going to feel a little scary.

It’s vulnerable to put your heart out there.

Sean:  It should. If something doesn’t challenge you, it’s not changing you and you have to kind of, I don’t know, not that everything needs to be suffering. I don’t really believe in the tortured artist.

I don’t think you have to suffer to create great art, but it should be pulling something from inside you and that shouldn’t be comfortable always.

Victoria:  That’s exactly it. That’s exactly right.

Sean: So we talked a little bit about always being on and communication is a very different thing now than it was certainly a century ago, but even five years ago, right. Things are moving so fast.

What do you see as the future of communication?

 Victoria:  Well, I think as things get faster the imperative upon you when you’re with someone live, and I mean live like online or in an email or in front of a camera, as I call it through the lens or live, it’s really important to stop time for them because everyone is so freaked out and busy and trying to keep up in this sort of hypnosis of hyperactivity, looking left and looking right.

So if you can come from a place of honesty and authenticity, and if you can really connect with them and craft and experience going back to this opening question of yours, that takes care of them, it’s going to really put you in a different position in their mind.

It helps you stand out.

Because everyone is so keen to prove themselves, as I said earlier. There’s so much neurosis out there.

And I think you have a beautiful podcast and it’s kind of like coming from an authentic place, and I think that authenticity is going to get more and more rare.

Sean:  Okay, I love that because distilled what you just said is if we take the whole Eight Questions and compact them is to be really happy you need to do the things that stop time for you. And to really make an impact, you need to do things to stop time for others.

Victoria: That’s right.

Sean:  That’s so beautiful and cyclical and what an elegant formula to live life.

Victoria:  Yes.

Sean:  Do you things that stop time for you and stop time for others and you will be happy and make other people happy.

Victoria: Exactly. So this is to pull through on that. Everyone’s on their own conveyor belt. So I always say to my clients when they’re putting together a video, a webinar, when you’re thinking of your book, like people are coming into it in that mindset so how can you take care of them and take them on this journey, whether that’s a novel or any type of non-fiction or a poem that really brings them out of time?

Sean:  That’s wonderful. Okay. Well, this will probably be a relatively easy question for you then. It’s the final one and it’s my favorite one.

What would you like your legacy to be?

Victoria:  Well, let me ask you a question back.

Sean:  Sure.

Victoria:  What do you define as legacy, because everyone interprets that word differently. So it could be how do people think of you. It could be what physical products you leave behind.

Sean:  I think how will people remember you. How do you most want to be remembered? So however you want to interpret that.

For me my legacy is most important I guess, right now at this time, if I were to die tomorrow what would my wife and children think of me? How would they – what would be said at my funeral?

We just our Smarter Artist event and I really felt legacy in probably a deeper way than I ever had before because so many people came up to me and said if you had not written Write, Publish, Repeat I would not have quit my job, I would not be writing full-time now.

The three of us really felt the lives that we had changed, so that was very deep and very meaningful in a way that I hadn’t – I mean we get those emails rather regularly, but looking in someone’s eye and hearing that is just – or eyes, we didn’t have any pirates there.

It was just a very different thing, and so I always end with this question but I think I’m, I don’t know, considering it at a deeper level now.

I think my wife and children are very, very proud of me at this moment because of this thing that we just did.

But what would – however people remember you, what is it that you would want to remember most?

Victoria:  Well, it’s what I do in my personal and professional life, and strive to do every day really, it’s to help people express themselves, to find their own path in life.

And I think that is an unexpected path.

So whether you’re on stage, or you’re putting together your speech, or you’re putting together your book, or trying to figure out the next decision in your life, what I do again and again is I help people find their own voice and express that in a way that only they can with the unexpected twist that makes it their own.

And that’s when people feel free. Everyone comes out of the work I do and they say I feel so much more myself. I feel so much more free and this is so much more fun.

Sean:  So you’re helping them to find their voice.

Victoria:  That’s right.

Sean:  And that is a beautiful way to spend your life. I mean what an amazing career really, that you’re helping people find their voice and find their direction.

I think as a culture we don’t tend to give communication the importance that it deserve in just the way that we exchange with each other.

Victoria:  Right.

Sean:  And the fact that you’ve kind of devoted your life to improving that, on a very wide spectrum, and again you’re talking about trickle down influence. You’re working at the very, very top to make sure that that message goes wide. It’s just a wonderful thing.

Victoria:  Well, thank you. And I think what hurts my heart is that I see so many people, we cover ourselves up with some kind of fear. We think we’re not enough and so my intention is really to remove those blocks.

I always say you’re more than you’re allowing yourself to be.

Find more about Victoria at her website.

Sean Platt is the founder of Sterling & Stone and loves that he not only gets paid to make up stories and come up with crazy ideas, but that he gets to do so with his best friends. Together, they've also co-authored the bestselling non-fiction titles Write. Publish. Repeat., Fiction Unboxed, and Iterate & Optimize to help Smarter Artists get smarter, faster.

Sean lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Cindy and their two children, Ethan and Haley.

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