Presentations: Acting Insights Into More Powerful Presentations: Speaking
The businessman – a former client – stepped up to the podium and nailed his speech to the civic group. The audience liked him. Our previous work together was so brief (about one hour) and so long ago (3 years), this success was clearly his doing. And yet he communicated as effectively as I could have wished. 1. He didn’t read the speech, he talked it – indicating considerable thought and rehearsal. 2. He made his speech matter to the audience and repeatedly related the content to his listeners’ interests. The presentation was always about the audience and not about him. (Remember that if you are ever invited to give a speech about your company or organization, your material should always benefit your audience more than you.) 3. He related many anecdotes to frame his points. The stories elevated his messages from the abstract to the actual – easy to understand and remember.
This speaker had transformed himself since we first met. He no longer labored through a typed speech. I don’t know how he prepared for this recent victory, but I recall that he had a strong desire to improve. I assume that whatever road he took to persuasive public speaking, his own motivation put him on it.
One final compliment. There was no guile or self-consciousness in his speech, just natural enthusiasm. He had the authenticity all of us seek and the audience values.
Since most of us want to enhance presentations, let’s use my acquaintance’s fine performance as a jumping off point for more recommendations intended to enhance authenticity – in short, to help you be yourself. These tips arise from principles taught to actors. While I have never been a thespian, I find that guidance for actors goes to the heart of what the rest of us want to accomplish. Whether standing in the boardroom, behind a podium, or before co-workers, these fundamentals should help you get better:
- All actions and behaviors during presentations must be for a purpose, be real, and not an attempt to achieve an end-result. In other words, don’t work to show happy or sad. Don’t gesture just because you are supposed to do so. Emote and move in accordance with the way you genuinely feel about what you say.
- Credibility comes from truth, not technique. Know your presentation; believe it, experience it, and let the meaning of the words motivate you. The end-result will take care of itself. That is why you should not develop expressions by looking at yourself in a mirror. That is also why although you will imitate the pros at first, you must ultimately strive to use your own unique actions in order to be believable.
- Pay attention to what words mean, not how they are spoken. Natural speech knows no punctuation. Avoid overly exaggerating. If you truly understand what you are saying, this will not be a problem. In life, we do not plan how we will speak, so don’t rehearse a way of communicating; rehearse to learn the sense of the content. Let words come to you; don’t force them into a pattern of speech. There is no right way to speak, only a real way. You must feel what you communicate, not pretend. Strive for the unaffected spoken word. (To appreciate the contrast between the bona fide and the fake, watch local TV newscasts and differentiate the anchors who comprehend what they are saying from those who are just reading lines).
- Express emotions don’t repress them. If it means something to you, show it. How can you expect your audience to care about what you are saying if you do not reveal your own sentiments?
- Want to reduce speaking anxiety and stage fright? The more you concentrate on your information, the less you will be concerned, much less aware, of how you are coming across. Stage fright is a direct result of lack of concentration. When you are focused on the work, nervousness subsides. Therefore, by extension, the single best antidote for nervousness is preparation. While it will not eliminate jitters, it will moderate them. One of my favorite aphorisms is “Do the work and you won’t have to do the dance.”
- Rehearse. As you learn the lines and practice telling your stories, repetition will give command. You will no longer labor to remember what to say. Knowing it well not only lessens fear, it provides the psychological freedom to show your emotional connection to the subject.
Finally, life and reality vary and so do speaking performances. Complete consistency is impossible and not honest. Give yourself permission to ebb and flow. After all, you are human, and that is what your audiences will appreciate most.