"All the world's a stage," William Shakespeare said, "so you'd better learn how to act to nail that PowerPoint presentation." I made that last part up of course. Shakespeare actually said the much less interesting, ". . . And all the men and women merely players."
I'm sure if the Bard were still alive, however, he'd say something about the intersection of performance, public speaking and business presentations. (For help in ramping up your on-your-feet skills for dynamic presentations, download our cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
As a former actor, I've always been fascinated by the powerful techniques of theatrical performance that are at the beck and call of every business speaker. These skills are simple; yet they can be transformative in terms of engaging and persuading audiences. And they usually create "Wow!" moments in business professionals who are exposed to them for the first time.
In fact, the company I founded, Public Speaking International, specializes in business training techniques rooted in the theater. After all, actors understand better than anyone in the world how to move audiences. The exact same approach can be used by business people to deliver effective, even extraordinary speeches and presentations. By marrying proven theatrical techniques with subject knowledge and experience, business speakers offer their listeners the best of both worlds: leadership presence combined with performance excellence.
Here are some of the theater-based techniques featured in PSI’s executive coaching and corporate workshops, discussed in terms of your ability to deliver successful speeches and presentations:
- Stage Presence and Authenticity. The most important of all business training techniques based in the theater. When you speak in situations that matter (and shouldn’t they all be?), what makes you successful is the fullness of your communication. In speaking powerfully you draw upon all of your means of expression: physical presence, voice, gestures, and story, along with the rest of your content. You must not think your job as a speaker is to convey information. It’s never that. Instead, it’s to give audiences the complete you joined with your urgent message. To speak successfully, you need to know the techniques of effective performance. There's no way around this basic equation.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing. Most of us breathe shallowly. To project a strong presence, however (and to reach the back of a large room), diaphragmatic breathing is necessary. This type of “belly breathing” produces full, resonant sound that has the voice of authority. It’s the ideal method of breathing for persuasive and influential speaking.
- Focused Relaxation (for Thinking on Your Feet). Being relaxed is nice, but not if you have all the strength of a cooked noodle! Focused relaxation, on the other hand, combines calmness with strength. Actors need to stay loose but poised, ready to respond with power while making it all look easy. Like an animal about to spring, they know not to waste an ounce of energy. When your energy is that focused, you can think on your feet and respond effectively to what audiences are giving you.
- Being Present in the Moment. Presence is an overused label. In terms of the stage, presence means being “there” for one’s fellow actors. Contrary to popular belief, not every stage performance is exactly the same. By paying close attention and being completely in the moment, the actor can react with full concentration. The result is a performance that’s much more attuned to what the others on stage are giving you. Every business audience wants you to be equally tuned in to what they're looking for.
- Improvisation. Few tools of the theater are as enjoyable as improv. At PSI, we use this tool to help professionals think quickly and act appropriately. For team-building and responding to questions and challenges from clients and prospects, there’s no substitute for training that includes improvisation. You never know what’s coming your way when you speak. Knowing how to improvise can take you from merely surviving to thriving in important speaking situations.
- Beats and Intentions. This is one of the most interesting applications of theater techniques to the business world. Actors pay close attention to the motives and intentions that drive a character’s behavior. There are intentions for the entire play, a single scene, and for “beats” within each scene. Learning this tool allows you to more easily decide exactly what you want from others. When you’re this clear on your purpose, you own a powerful strategic tool for getting audiences to think, feel, and do what you want them to.
In our next blog, we'll examine more theater-based techniques for business training, including vocal dynamics, body language, role-playing, storytelling, and using language powerfully. See you after intermission . . . .
Takeaways from this blog:
- Theatrical techniques are custom-made for powerful business presentations.
- Simple techniques can be combined with subject knowledge for true leadership.
- All your means of expression constitute what's known as "stage presence."
- Proper breathing and focus help you stay fully present for your audience.
- Knowing how to think on your feet will help you thrive in high-stakes situations.
- An actor's method of using intentions can help you stay true to your purpose.
My previous blogs related to this topic:
- "Leadership Skills: 10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking"
- "Body Language Secrets: What Self-Image Are You Broadcasting?"
- "4 Easy Ways to Become a More Charismatic Speaker"
- "Curtain Up! — Adding Drama to Your Speeches and Presentations"