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How The Movies Can Make You A Better Speaker

How The Movies Can Make You A Better Speaker

Can the movies show you how to improve your presentation skills? Sure! Here are five movie performances that can make you a better speaker.

Something different this week. We're going to look at public speaking through a different lens. A movie camera lens, in fact.

Great actors are excellent at demonstrating some of the basics of top-level speaking skills. It's all about craft. Let's examine five screen performances that can serve as a "how-to" for helping you be an outstanding public speaker.

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1. Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Essential Quality: Wonder. There's a reason this classic film is a joy for children and adults alike. It's because of . . . well, joy! It's everywhere, from ruby slippers to monkeys that fly. One of the best places to see it is in Ray Bolger's performances as the Scarecrow. Just look at his eyes and the expression of amazement on his face as he looks at everything. When we leave our jaded outlook behind and see everything with wonder, it becomes new for us. And that's a way to say it will become new and wondrous for your audience as well. For instance, here's how to read a speech and still be an effective speaker.

2. Bette Davis (Jane Hudson) in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Essential Quality: Investment. Not the financial kind—the acting kind. If you want to know how to be a charismatic speaker, you need to invest yourself completely in your performance. The funny thing about that, though, is that you can't be concerned with your performance. Just like an actor, you will come across as shallow and uninteresting if you try to be interesting. If, on the other hand, you serve the truth of the moment (in both public speaking and acting), something of value will result. When you give a presentation, that means devoting yourself to the needs of your audience, nothing else. Watching the great Bette Davis invest herself totally in this macabre film is an enthralling lesson.

3. Shirley MacLaine (Aurora Greenway) in Terms of Endearment (1983). Essential Quality: Range. A critic once said that a young Katharine Hepburn's performance in a play "ran the gamut of emotions—from A to B." Shirley MacLaine runs a different race in this poignant comedy-drama. She delivers a bravura performance as a lonely, embittered, steadfast, and ultimately heartbroken woman that showcases a spectacular emotional range. If you're bored and have forgotten how to be a high-impact speaker, one reason may be because your presentations don't challenge you any more. And you haven't been listening enough to figure that out. Truly memorable speeches will force you to stretch and grow. Accept the challenge!

4. Al Pacino (Vincent Hanna) in Heat. (1995). Essential Quality: Craft. You'll be feeling the heat at every turn in this action-packed crime drama. Worth the admission all by itself is the café scene between Pacino as the police lieutenant, and Robert DeNiro as the chief bad guy. It's just a conversation over coffee, which in the hands of a great writer and director (Michael Mann) and two masters of the acting craft, is absolutely riveting. Pay attention to the timing as each delivers his lines. There's a lesson there concerning public speaking, since pace and tempo are key ingredients reminding you why your performance is as important as your content. In the sheer display of craft, it's neck-and-neck to the finish here, and I think Pacino comes out as the winner.

5. Ben Foster (Tanner Howard) in Hell Or High Water (2016). Essential Quality: Habitation. By that I mean the ability, seen in only a few screen actors, to completely inhabit a role. George C. Scott was one of those actors. As one of my acting friends said about Scott's role in the 1971 film The Hospital, "he's acting with his eyelashes." Ben Foster's eyelashes are equally employed here, along with the rest of him inside and out as an ex-con in a movie about brothers who rob a bank foreclosing on their property. Foster is like that in most of his roles—he's that kind of actor. It's a quality that will help you in your speeches and presentations (even if you don't reach the heights at it): Let everything go. Become your message. You always were anyway.

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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching  and corporate group training worldwide. He was named for nine consecutive years as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals, and also named as One of America's Top 5 Speech CoachesHe is the author of the Amazon Best-Sellers How to Give a Speech and Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. His book, Fearless Speakingwas named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." He is also the author of the Dr. William Scarlet Mysteries. Contact Gary here. 

Cinema photo credit: Wyron A on


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