Want to boost your nonverbal skills for dynamic public speaking? Here's an amazing technique to improve your body language and voice.
Would you be upset if I asked you to wear a mask?
It's not to protect against Covid-19. And it isn't to allow you to hide anything. Actually, it's to help free you in terms of becoming a more dynamic public speaker.
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I'm talking about a neutral mask. That's a theater prop used in rehearsals and performances that specifically blanks out all traces of emotion (like the mask in the photo above).
Interestingly, for something that intentionally wipes out all evidence of feelings, the neutral mask can be a game-changer when it comes to adding emotion to your performance.
You Have No Facial Expressions. What Now?
There are some fascinating reasons why a theater company or a director uses a neutral mask. For one thing, it creates a state of total calmness. And because it doesn't allow any emotional baggage to be brought into the space, it can be a vast storehouse of potential. It also forces the performer to be completely in the present, since nothing can happen unless the actor makes it happen. There's no comic face or tragic expression (as in the famous theatrical masks) to play off of. You as the performer must create the drama and any emotions that go with it.
And that's where the power of the neutral mask to improve your nonverbal skills resides. First, accept my proposition that your dynamism as a speaker comes not from your content, but from your performance. What happens when your body language and voice—the other major aspects of nonverbal communication along with facial expressions--are lacking power and precision? Presumably, you have to find a way to improve in those two areas.
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That's where the neutral mask comes in. When you wear it while speaking (only during practice sessions, of course), you quickly grasp that any facial expressions are suddenly off the table. This limitation is exactly the same for actors and public speakers. Instinctively, you are likely to start gesturing and using vocal coloration to "fill in" for what you can't show on your face. If you enter into the spirit of the exercise and don't hold yourself back, you can add an entire dimension of physical performance to your presentation skills.
And that's the whole point. Once you put aside the mask, you may retain your greater expressiveness of body and voice to go along with your restored facial expressions. Body, voice, and face. That's the trifecta of effective nonverbal communication for public speaking.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers in-person and online training to help executives and teams become extraordinary communicators. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." Contact Gary here.