Every business audience needs you to perform at your best. But as whom? Do you need to be acting when you speak in public?
A client brought it up the other day, as many do: "I've never acted before. Or performed in any way, really."
Sometimes the comment is more along the lines of: "I won't have to act, will I . . . you're not going to change me into someone else?" Of course, I hear the other side as well: "I think all good speakers are actors, and theater techniques are powerful tools. I want to learn them!"
What these professionals among my speech coaching clients have in common is first, an awareness that The Genard Method is a performance-based speech training company. At that point, they often diverge in how close they think they want to get to the fire.
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So what is it about acting and public speaking? Are they really so close to one another? And do you need skills in both disciplines to succeed when addressing an audience?
Why Acting Skills Will Improve Your Public Speaking
You certainly don't need an actor's essential skill: the ability to "become" another human being for a dramatic performance. In fact, you shouldn't even try to assume another persona when you give a talk—i.e., trying to be "you," only better. That's because just like the actor, you have to deliver honesty and authenticity every second you're in front of an audience.
For the actor, that means living the life of the character as it unfolds within the drama. It requires believing (not pretending to believe) that you are this person, and what just happened in the script is something you had no idea was about to occur. (It's called "The Illusion of the First Time.") As a speaker, you have the same mandate. Your job is to deliver what you're saying with total honesty and presence in the moment. Just like the actor, you need to serve listeners by devoting yourself to what you're saying, rather than thinking of yourself.
That's the basic similarity and difference you as public speaker share with actors. From that starting point, there are skills you can learn about using your "instrument," i.e., body language, facial expressions, and vocal dynamics to get across not only information, but emotion to your audience. There are also may other tips and techniques of using the stage and other aspects of the performance space to reach listeners viscerally.
There is also the hard-to-learn but essential skill of knowing (feeling) the power of your story. Once you know that, you can pace your performance for maximum impact. So yes, all of these acting skills will vastly improve your public speaking.
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Every Business Person Should Take an Acting Class
If this mix of abilities seems far outside your experience, there's a fun and easy way to explore the actor's realm while building your skills: take an acting class. Every major city has companies that offer acting classes specifically for business professionals. It may be improvisation, comedy, or acting scenes from great dramas. The classes may be instructional in nature, more free-flowing, or highly performative. The common thread should be that all of you are "up there" on stage most of the time.
The idea isn't to turn you into the next Oscar winner. It's to introduce you to the special place where your physical self and the art of performance meet. Classes like this stretch your boundaries, sometimes much farther than you thought they'd go. They teach you how to make a fool of yourself safely (because everybody else is doing it too). You'll be challenged to be more vulnerable while learning how to engage an audience. In the process, you'll learn a lot about yourself—all of it fodder for being better at turning an audience on.
The Paradox of Theater and Public Speaking
As you take this journey (if you do), remember the essential paradox of both theater and public speaking: you can't give an outstanding performance by trying to "be excellent." The best actors forget themselves completely as they serve the play or script, which is exactly what you must do, i.e., serve your message, to fulfill the needs of your listeners.
They matter, you don't. Be honest with them as you try to give them something that will make their lives better. That's when they will believe you and be willing to take the action you're advocating. So go for authenticity not excellence. The latter will then arrive on its own.
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