Ever wonder why great acting performances are so powerful? Here's a key actor's skill that can make you a more exciting speaker.
What if I told you that there's an acting technique that will absolutely make you a more exciting speaker? And I'll raise the stakes by saying you can't really be successful without it.
Would you be in or out?
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In fact, there is such a skill. Actually, it's more of a basic requirement—one that's so fundamental to acting and public speaking alike that you couldn't have a performance without it.
And it all has to do with the reality that audiences aren't mind readers.
Actors Do This Naturally. How About You?
Your listeners in a public speaking situation—whether it's a meeting, presentation, keynote speech, panel, media interview, or other appearance—are exactly like an audience in a theater. They can only respond to what they see and hear. (We'll leave out the rare audience member who brings her own crystal ball.)
If you're thinking that concerns the content of your talk, you're only partly right. Sure, audiences will take away your message, along with a small part of the data you present. But they will be hugely affected—sometimes permanently so—by how you come across and the ways that you relate to them. Public speaking, in other words, is all about you bringing what and who you are to an audience, not including it in an email message or published report.
Call it Show-and-Tell on steroids. If you think about an actor's performance, you'll understand that the whole point is for the actor to show who their character is—through body language, facial expressions, vocal choices, timing, movement, and his or her relationship with the others in the scene and with the script itself. Without this externalization, how could the audience understand who this person—the character—is? The dialogue on the page provides only the barest outline of what actually evolves in front of the viewers, in real time. That can only happen if the human dimension is not only felt but shown to the audience by the actor.
Are You Externalizing What Audiences Need to See?
If you think of your own script—your talking points, PowerPoint slides, etc.—you'll understand that the same situation applies in your speeches. Your content is only the starting point for you to reach listeners, not the end in itself.
Like the actor, you must externalize what you're thinking and feeling for the audience to get the full picture. This is the fundamental requirement for any performer: to be able to express what's inside them to others so they'll see it and hear it and then understand. As I tell my speech coaching clients, your audience can't see your passion, your commitment to your ideas, and all your other wonderful qualities. But they'll perceive all those things if you enlist the performance skill of externalization.
When Your Listeners Get It, You'll Be Successful
So what are the means of expression you can and must use to make this magic happen? Here are five prime candidates:
- Eye Contact: Are you generally persuaded by someone who won't look you in the eye? In Western culture, eye contact equals trustworthiness. While it's possible to exploit that connection if you're trying to fool people, you must use it to establish genuine trust.
- Nonverbal Communication: You need to tap into the full spectrum of communication, which goes far beyond verbal content. That's a key part of human interaction, one that's hard-wired into everyone. Think beyond body language to find physical expression for what you're saying. Your talk will come alive.
- Commanding the Stage. Go beyond gestures and stance to make use of your performance area. You'll be teaching yourself how to command a stage. Actors know where the strongest positions on a stage are, and you can find them here. When you're this comfortable speaking in front of others, you automatically come across as a leader.
- Revealing Your Personality. Far too many speakers focus only on information. You might say they're serving their content rather than their listeners. Remember that public speaking is intensely personal, even intimate. Be willing to show your vulnerability. You'll connect with your audience, and it will be easier to display empathy, humor, and good will.
- Your Relationship with Your Audience. This is an area beyond the horizon for too many speakers. Your message means less—and feels like much less—if you can't get it across the footlights. The truth is, you know this speech. If you left your notes on the plane, you could still deliver it passionately. So show us what you got.
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