Video and transcript from Justin Foster’s talk at Austin’s 2nd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Please join us for the Control the Room 2021, which will be held Feb. 2-4, 2020. You can find out more and buy tickets here.

This is part of the 2020 Control The Room speaker video series.

In February we hosted the second annual facilitator summit, Control The Room, at Austin’s Capital Factory. We launched the summit last year in partnership with MURAL to create a space for facilitators to gather, break down the silos, and learn from one another.

The three-day summit is a rare opportunity to bring together an otherwise unlikely group of highly experienced and skilled professionals across various industries and crafts—from strategy consultants and negotiators to Scrum Masters and design thinkers.

Anyone interested in deepening their knowledge on how to successfully facilitate meaningful meetings and connect with other practitioners is welcome. Together, we dive into diverse methodologies, expand upon perspectives, and learn new insights and strategies that enrich our expertise.

This year we had the pleasure of welcoming 24 speakers, all innovation professionals, who shared their insights and strategies of successful facilitation.

One of those speakers was Justin Foster. Justin is the Co-Founder of Root + River. Justin’s presentation, “Leadership Presence: Where Inner Work Meets Outer Story,” outlined the importance of incorporating and sharing one’s own identity, creativity, and intuition to serve as the sustainable foundation from which to operate and lead most effectively as a facilitator. From this base, individuals can then express their originality, the craft of self-expression, and empathy to create a deeper connection with the audience.

Justin explained that to become an elite facilitator, one must take risks and be okay with failure.

He shared four practices to do so:
1. Practice of physicality / movement: the more in shape you are, the more confident you feel. It’s no coincidence that all the great leaders are walkers and pacers.

2. Practice of intellectuality: regularly discover. A state of perpetual learning to expand your database.

3. Practice of emotion: if you have untreated emotional wounds, it will affect you in your craft. Continue to examine yourself and your practices. Witness your own emotions and feels

4. Practice of spirituality: three S’s (stillness, silence, solitude) if you do the three, it allows you to grow and hone your craft.

Watch Justin Fosters’s talk “Leadership Presence”:

Read the Transcript

Justin Foster:

Thank you Douglas. Good morning everybody.

Speaker 2:

Good morning.

Justin Foster:

I coached youth football for 15 years, so I’ll say good morning again. And if it’s not without enthusiasm, then somebody’s got to do push-ups. Good morning.

Speaker 2:

Good morning.

Justin Foster:

That’s awesome. Wanted to thank Douglas, but also, none of this happens without a lot of moving parts behind the scenes. So I think we should give a cheer out to Lily, Tara, and Pixie in particular. So, this is an analog presentation. I like doing risky things apparently, because a couple of weeks ago I went to Creative Mornings and it was the speaker. And I talked about creativity in front of creatives. Today, I’m giving a speech with essentially new material in front of facilitators. So I think bungee jumping is on the schedule for this afternoon.

Justin Foster:

But it is an analog presentation. And what we’re going to start off with is this. I’ll give you two choices here. You can either draw, or you can just imagine. And what I’d like you to either draw or imagine is a robust fruit tree. Imagine the root system, imagine the trunk, the branches, the leaves. But most of all, imagine the fruit, whatever fruit it is, peaches, apples, oranges, just big, juicy fruit. So take a moment, just a few seconds, to sketch that out or imagine that out, and think of that image.

All right, you can keep drawing if you want. Multitasking is allowed. So this tree, this fruit tree, is your brand as a facilitator, as a presenter. When you go out into the world and you go do your thing. And so there’s a ancientness to it. Hermes said, “As above, so below.” I say, “As below, so above.” Your root system produces the thing that your audience wants, which is fruit. The audience wants fruit. And the fruit comes from the inner work that you do that produces your outer story, which is how other people experience you.

Now, facilitation speaking, oral presentation is an ancient thing. One of the most ancient ways to transfer information. And it’s still one of the best. Meetups in person or better. In-person events like this are better than virtual. There’s a sacredness to it. And the very first tattoo I got, and it wasn’t that long ago, and you can’t hardly see it up here, but I’ll just tell you what it is. It’s a Bible verse, and it’s Isaiah 50:4 which says, “You have been given the tongue of the learned to give a word in season to those that are weary.”

Now, I like quoting Bible verses in talks like this because people that are really into the Bible don’t like it, and people that are not at all into the Bible, don’t like it.

Speaker 2:

Nailed it.

Justin Foster:

So one of my goals is to alienate the far right and the far left. So anyway, what that means, the reason I got that as my first tattoo is because I do a lot of this. I do a lot of speaking and what I found in myself over the 17 years of being a professional speaker, I found some arrogance creeping in. I found this idea, this narrative, that the audience is there for me, “Ooh, they’re there for me. Validate me.”

Through some nice therapy work and other types of deep work, I realized what I was seeking was a validation for a mother and a father wound. And we’ll get into that another talk. But when I had this realization that I am there and we are, as facilitators, we are here for our audience, we’re a conduit. We are an instrument that is being used by the cosmos to share ideas, to share words and language and concepts. So it’s important. This fruit tree is important.

So I call this fruit tree presence, leadership presence, as it were. But let’s talk about it as if it were barren, as if it bore no fruit. What would cause that? What would that look like? Well, a couple of things that would happen if your root system isn’t solid, and you don’t nurture this fruit tree of presence. One thing that would happen is a sense of abstractness. Where there’s a distance between you and your audience. You don’t feel them anymore. They’re objects. This is what objectification is. This happens in large organizations and people that get disconnected from their own soul. People become abstracts.

A second thing that happens in this, is a lack of nutritional value, pablum, err, cotton candy, where you eat it in the room, and then you don’t remember at all what was said, because there was no depth to it. It didn’t feed you. That starts to happen. And the source of this sort of unfruitfulness as a leader, and a presenter, is really around drift and disconnect. And you’re drifting away from your true identity of who you are. And there’s a disconnect from yourself and from people.

So that’s the negative side of this. That’s sort of evidence of something’s gone awry. And you can reverse engineer back to that. Let’s talk about what it means to actually bear fruit so that your audience can feed on it. So let’s start with the root system. And there are three elements of the root system. There are more than three, but for today we’ll focus on three. I can’t do Kung Fu so. So the first one is your identity.

Now identity is one of those things that is, it’s kind of a hot potato topic. We have a term like identity politics, or “I identify as”. And so there’s a level of taboo-ness to this idea. But what happens is, when we are young, we produce an illusory self in order to be accepted. We all do it. And in ancient cultures, prior to the industrial revolution, really, but in certainly in all indigenous and native cultures, there was a process of going through and removing the illusory self to find out who you truly are.

We’ll go this way instead. All right. Thank you. So to remove that. So for example, the famous Sioux native chief, Sitting Bull, was given the name Slow, because when you were born in the Sioux nation, you were given a name that was associated with some sort of physical trait that you had. Then when he was 13 or 14 years old, he went on a vision quest and he fasted and took some substances, and had this vision of a white Buffalo sitting. And he came back and told the tribe, you can call me Sitting Bull now.

We don’t do that process anymore. What we do is we take on an identity we think is going to make us acceptable. And that becomes us. And then when that identity is threatened, that’s where we get defensive. That’s where tribalism comes in. That’s where dissent and separation comes in. The funny thing about it, or the interesting thing about it, is if you don’t know who you truly are, the audience is sort of just making it up as you go. They are sort of filling in the blanks. And the thing about it is that most audiences, most participants, have a pretty good bullshit detector. So this idea that if you’re disconnected from who you are, the root, the taproot of your presence is identity.

The second area is creativity, or if you’re familiar with the chakras, this is the sacral energy. This is the energy of creativity, the energy of power, the muse, all that stuff. And speaking and the spoken word isn’t art. It’s iterative, it’s practice. No one is done, no matter how many times you’ve given a speech, facilitated a thing, you’re never done. There’s an iteration there. And that iteration, that energy and that power comes from tapping into your creative energy.

This is why it’s important to do some of the things that we’ve already even touched on today, and what Linda mentioned, doing that inner work and feeling it in your body like Solomon talked about. And what you’re tapping into is that fire, it’s the Kundalini, the coiled snake of energy. And you’re tapping into it, and what will happen if you do that, is that you get one of the ultimate contagions, you get enthusiasm. That’s what happens. And enthusiasm is a fruit that people get to participate in. So I don’t believe in motivational speaking at all. I believe in inspirational speaking. I’m sometimes demotivating, I think. But the idea is, is that you’re trying to inspire or ignite something in your audience. That’s the second route.

The third route is intuition. Now there are many words for this similar to what Linda talked about related to spirit. There are many words for this. One word for intuition is Sophia, was a Greek word for wisdom. There’s a Gnostic or Gnosticism. That’s another example of wisdom. We sometimes say gut feeling. Intuition is the cosmos, this quintessential unmentionable essence of creativity were creativity comes from, that then powers what we’re trying to say. And Rumi said, “I am the hole in the flute that the breath of life passes through. Hear my music.” Or some variation of that.

And so that is that wisdom that passes through us, that we’re conduits for. So that’s your root system. And there were some other things in there. There’s beliefs and narratives, and there’s our fears and our failures. There’s some other elements in there. But if you imagine three big roots driving down into the soil, growing in perpetuity between identity, sacral or creative energy, and intuition or wisdom. Those three things, they sustain you in any situation. You can go back to those again and again, and you will bear fruit if you have those.

So now we get into above the soil, we get into the actual fruits themselves. The first fruit that people want, and that we should produce, as facilitators and speakers is originality. I mentioned the Rumi quote about being music. Wayne Dyer said, “Don’t die with music still inside of you.” So this idea that we as facilitators and speakers, we’re creatives, we’re artists. And so when we produce something and we share it to the world, we don’t want to be cover bands. We’re not doing the lounge session on a cruise ship. We’re not Michael Bublé pretending to be something that he’s not. We are original singers of music.

So we’re Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. We’re Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. We’re not Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. We’re producers of original music. That originality comes from your root system, that divine inspiration, that identity, that’s the originality of thinking of original thoughts. So that’s the first one is focusing on originality.

The second one is the craft itself, the craft of expression. And treating it as a craft. The lead guitars for Megadeath goes and gets a beginner’s guitar lesson every year. And that’s how he keeps a beginner’s mind in the process. Michelangelo said, when he died, “I still have so much left to learn.” So this iterative aspect, or this understanding, that our craft is a practice and every single time we present is an opportunity to do a little bit better than the last time. That’s a powerful thing. And that state of continuous improvement is what makes the next round of fruit juicer and more nutritious in the process.

So this craft is one of those sort of mysterious things, because it doesn’t only come from practice. You would think that if it’s just the Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, and you go give 10,000 hours of speaking, you’d be a better speaker, but you wouldn’t necessarily be an elite facilitator. What makes a facilitator elite in this process, is the ability, or the willingness to take risks, to try new material, to present something to the audience that might fail. What it involves is expanding and thinking as an artist, into other aspects of your life, like self care or expanding your vocabulary or reading.

I’m about halfway through Madeline Angles, it’s a compilation of Madeline Angles quotes on writing and creativity. I love reading about other people’s creative processes. I love reading about other people that have a craft. I don’t know how to build a canoe, but Nick Offerman does. And I like Nick Offerman. And I’m inspired by that. I’ll probably never build a canoe, but I can build a speech, and I can build a workshop, and I can build a conversation. That’s my craft, that’s our craft. That’s what we do. So treating it as craft with some humility, and some commitment to the improvement of it, the intuitive nature of it is an essential aspect, essential fruit of presence.

The final one may be the most important and that’s empathy. There’s something about energy that it’s either there or it’s not. And we have a certain level of intuition about the temperature of the room and how the room responds. And literally this event’s called Control The Room. But really it’s feel the room. That’s really what it is. It’s feel the individual. It’s having the sense of connection, of interconnectedness to each person that you’re looking at or speaking to. And not seeing a sea of faces, but seeing individuals, and individuals that all need love, all need recognition, all have struggled or are struggling with something, all have experienced suffering and sorrow.

And we get this opportunity with our energy and our presence and our word and our craft to open up our hearts and connect with someone. What a thing. Oprah says, “Don’t add more darkness to the world.” So in our cases, facilitators and speakers, it doesn’t really matter the topic. What matters is, is that we are able to crack open our hearts, and we’re able to show the world who we truly are, and see the world as they are, and feel that sense. And there’s nothing like that feeling when you’re able to tap into it and share it.

So you have the fruits, and again, there are more than three, but the three for you to ponder today are originality, working on your craft, and empathy. So where does all this come from? And I’m going to give you four practices that I teach. I do myself, and fail at frequently. And I teach to others in the work that we do at Root and River around branding, and messaging, and storytelling, and whatnot. And I simply just call them the four practices of the modern human.

That’s a little tongue in cheek, because these are actually four really ancient principles. But there is no formula here. This isn’t a formula. This doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you the way it worked for me. It means that they’re practices. That means you’re going to implement them. If you do implement them, and they’re going to have a different result based off of your fruit tree, not someone else’s. The first practice of a modern leader, or modern human, is a practice of physicality or movement.

This was one that I struggle with. I struggle with the commitment to do physical labor and exercise. But I have a story about this, a brief one. My younger son, his name is Caden. If you are on Instagram, you can follow him at Reluctant Hobo. Reluctant Hobo is a rising artist. He’s getting paid thousands of dollars for his art now. One of the things I told him, when he decided this was what he was going to do, he wasn’t going to go to college. He was just going to go right into doing his art, is one of the things I told him is you’ve got to take care of yourself physically. And at the time he would say, if he was here, he was not in shape.

And so what he did, and he draws a direct correlation to this. The more in shape he got and the more confident he got in his physical being, and doing hard things, the better his art became. And I think that’s pretty cool. What an interesting proof of concept of this idea of the practice of physicality. It’s no coincidence that most of your great thinkers were walkers, Paulo Coelho, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, all walkers. Walked everywhere. So even that is a type of movement, it’s not necessarily getting on a treadmill, put your headphones in and just grind it out and to check a box that you exercised. I’m talking about physicality. I’m talking about chopping wood and carrying water.

The second practice is an intellectual practice that goes back to the beginner’s mind about continuing to nurture a spirit of curiosity about life, to tap into that inner child that likes to paint, and draw, and imagine, and pretend, and tap into that as a practice that you do on a regular basis. So when I’ve done that, when I’m consistent with that, what happens is a state of perpetual learning. It’s a state of discovery. And that pulls in multiple benefits to me. One benefit is that it expands my database. If I am giving a talk that I can pull from something that I’ve actually read or learned. The intellectual practice is really a learning practice.

The third one is an emotional practice. And this is kind of a sensitive thing here. If you have untreated wounds, emotional wounds, it will affect who you are in your craft. And so the emotional practice is, and what I do is, I still go to a therapist once a month, even though I feel like I’m past some of the healing, I’m on the other side of healing and now I’m in whatever that phase is on the other side of healing. But I still go, because I learned something about myself each time. It’s almost like maintenance. So that’s an emotional practice of continuing to examine yourself, examine your habits, examine your tendencies. Sometimes get outside help with like therapy or a coach or something. But it’s this ability to be a witness to your own emotions and feelings.

And then the final one is a spiritual practice. Now I don’t mean a religious practice. If that’s how someone chooses to manifest a spiritual practice, as a set of religious practices. Great. What I’m talking about are simply the three S’s of spirituality, of a spiritual practice. The first is stillness. The second is silence. And the third is solitude. If we can do those things, if we can nurture stillness, solitude, and silence, it allows that tree to heal and grow, and the fruit gets bigger and bigger. And as we hone our craft, and as we open our hearts, and as we go out into the world doing our thing of moving audiences, the tree gets bigger, they get fruit, and we all win. Thank you.