Breaking Down the Wall With Rob Bell - Part One: SPACE



So, next week I'm publishing an episode I recorded awhile ago on how we as speakers need to break down the 4th wall - how we need to connect and get curious and make it about these people who walk in the door with all of their world being dragged along with them. And a little over a week ago, I stood on stage at Listen To Your Mother and experienced (and watched my fellow storytellers experience) how an audience enters into our content and changes it, and us right along with them.

And this past Saturday I got to BE that audience. I got to sit in the intimate and vulnerable and world-rocking space that Rob Bell creates.

Audience - and the energy and movement that happens between audience and speaker - is something I believe in greatly. I myself try and create that energy, and I hope to create it with the speakers I coach - so experiencing this energy myself is kind of like the doctor finally getting the medicine she's been doling out and realizing that it does indeed heal.



And please tell me you know who Rob Bell is.

He is a former pastor but still preacher, speaker, podcast host, creator and writer and doer of amazing and thought-provoking and mind-expanding things. If you're a religious person of a certain religious descent, you might know who Rob is. His specialty is rocking the religious world, though that's not his intent or goal. (And I totally dig him for it.)

I realize that I can't really write about how Rob Bell moved me without giving you some kind of context of religion... So, although totally outside the realm of this podcast and blog and me not being very religious and at some level not sure I want to 'go there'... let me say this: as a recovering/struggling/cafeteria/progressive Catholic who has, somehow, both a deep faith and too many questions for church to feel like home... well, Rob Bell speaks my language.

But this series is not about WHAT Rob Bell speaks about; I'm no expert there and have no business or interest in talking about the validity of his content. (Even though his content = awesome.)

But I can talk about HOW Rob Bell speaks. The way in which he connects; how he curates the space; the stamina of not just speaking for several hours, but in taking questions and then walking with people through their very personal stories. He is stellar.



So I wanted to pull apart the lessons for all of us in that experience.

And there are some wonderfully big reminders for us. I sat down to write about it all, and wouldn't you know it, I wrote, like, 2000 words. (Good grief, that's too much.) So, I'm breaking it down into 4 parts, 4 posts, 4 ideas.


Today, it's about space - and how we can curate it exactly for our purposes.

As you may know, I delve into the idea of space in my SASI speaker toolkit because I think it's the element least focused on, and yet can determine the way forward on a presentation more than any other one thing.

And from what I've seen, Rob thinks about space. Rob went into this tour (for his latest book, How to Be Here) wanting to deconstruct the typical book tour. No more 45 minute talks with some Q&A, swooping in and out.  Whirlwind, no more. He wanted to connect. He wanted to talk. He wanted to interact. To do that he changed the space.

He did 3 things to curate his space:

1 - He changed the set-up. 

Rob rented out a cool warehouse-y space and created what he called his "living room," set up 'in the round' - meaning he had a small open space in the middle with audience on all four sides. Talk about breaking down the 4th wall!

As a coach and a speaker, I love to play with the set-up so that when the audience walks in they have an idea immediately about their role. Classroom style? Just sit and take notes. Sitting in a circle? Reflection and conversation. In the round? Intimate and connected. And it was!


2 - He used his body.

Space is not just about the set-up, it's about how we move through it. How we interact with the space - move around, stay put, sit stand, take up a lot of space or a little space - is part of what creates the experience.

If you've ever seen any of Rob's talks - this Super Soul Sessions talk, maybe? - or this amazing talk from his Everything is Spiritual Tour - then you know that Rob also uses his body fully. Speaking is a physical experience, and I love that Rob almost dances through his talk. Not willy-nilly and thoughtlessly; he is intentional. And that kind of movement through space makes the talk come more alive.

There is SO MUCH to say about how we use our bodies in our talks - but let me just say this: a fully embodied speaker is an authentic speaker.

And 3 - He created relationship. 

Space also determines relationship; his, and the audience's. He was no more than about 5 feet from the front row at any given time. He was hanging right there with us, so the conversations and questions went deeper, faster. It felt intimate.

Not only was I in relationship with him, I was in relationship with everyone else in that room - thanks to the space. Even when he had his back to me - I could see the faces of the people he was looking at. Now that is an incredibly cool experience: lights on, in the round, close and intimate conversations? Big things can happen in that kind of space.

(I had an amazing conversation on the show with Michelle Hensley from Ten Thousand Things theater about this very thing.) 

He couldn't escape us, and we couldn't escape him.

This kind of space takes courage - and conviction - and connection. (Ooooh, alliteration, I like it.)


Body, space, energy, audience, connection. YOU GUYS, THESE ARE ALL MY FAVORITE THINGS!

Next time you're giving a talk - give extra thought to how you can curate the space to create connection and energy, how it inhibits or enhances your movement, how you can bring the audience in and make them feel a certain way.

A note to Rob: Rob, thanks for sharing so much of yourself in that space. I believe that a good talk can move the world, and yours do. Yours did for me. Thank you!

(Next up, I'll post about how to create more Resonance, inspired by the awesome Rob Bell.)