Some of you may know that many years ago I trained as a professional actress. In fact, I still have my Equity card in my drawer! Performance has been a big part pf my life, whether I am acting in a play or entertaining several hundred people with my Presentations on a cruise ship. So, for me, there are clear links between the two skills.
I think that the majority of people who do Public Speaking in business are not natural performers and have very little, if any, specific training. So here, in layman’s terms, are some tricks of the trade, straight from the actor’s mouth!
1. How to time the lines.
An actor rehearses the script and then puts the thought pauses in to make the words of the character sound spontaneous. Nothing can be so fast that the audience can’t hear every word.
The speaker should practice his structure. I do not advocate learning off by heart as this is very hard to deliver naturally. Even when you are very familiar with your content, you should ‘find’ your words with pauses. This will give that sense of the speaker having absolute control.
Remember that, generally speaking, the pace will be slower than the actor. Your content matters so give the audience time to take it in.
2 When to move.
An actor only moves when there is motivation to do so and surprise, surprise, so should the speaker! People who suggest you should ‘move to and fro across the stage’ are forgetting a fundamental fact about the human body. It only moves when there is a purpose. Therefore, when we see someone aimlessly moving when presenting or doing any repetitive gesture or body patterns we find it distracting and stop listening to him or her.
Of course you can and should move if there is a reason to do so e.g. to mark a change of direction in the speech or to enhance an important point. Use movement sparingly but with power and you win in the presenting stakes.
3 Making an Entrance (and Exit).
An actor wants to be noticed when he comes on stage and the presenter should too. Even if you are not an extrovert, take a deep breath, walk tall, lift your eyes to the audience and smile. You will give them confidence in your ability even before you open your mouth. Exit as if you’ve enjoyed every minute (even if you haven’t!) and you’ll encourage people to approach you for a chat and probably be asked back.
4 How to be Heard.
Actors knows how to project their voice naturally and effectively. Many speakers THINK they know how to do it but without professional help they are probably much less effective than they could be. You mustn’t expect the microphone to do it for you. That machine can only make louder what it is given, so give it ‘energy’ with as much breath as you can comfortably get into your lungs.
This is too technical to teach here but if you want to know more, you know where I am!
5 Finding Light & Shade.
An actor builds a scene to a dramatic climax and reduces an audience to helpless laughter or tears at the drop of an inflection! In other words, they use their voice like a musical instrument and know how to play on the emotions of their audience. A speaker must do the same or they will be boring.
Science tells us that the more a voice moves around, the more we like it and the more we listen to the words being spoken. Record yourself:
- How good are you at creating tunes?
- Do you vary the pace a lot?
- Are your pauses really productive?
- Are you emotional about your content? Because, if you aren’t, your audience certainly won’t be. ‘Wear your heart on your sleeve’ and ‘you’ll have them eating out of your hands’ – sorry about the mixed metaphors!
So there you have it. 5 tips from an actor to all you Public Speakers out there. I hope you try them out and notice a difference in your resulting feedback.
Above all, enjoy your moment in the spotlight. We all deserve at least one of those!
Speak Loud & Clear!