“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
Many of us recognize this fear of public speaking. It is estimated that 75% of people would like to improve their performance on stage. But how? In my career I have been taught the following acting techniques and used them before taking the stage. And I have found that these techniques are just as applicable to any other speaking performance that we do. Whether it is a presentation for a business proposal, a wedding speech or a farewell speech for one of your well respected colleagues, the below basic techniques can be applied.
- know what you want to say
As an actor you need to know your script. And knowing the script means that you need to know what you want to say, how you want to say it, and how you would like your audience to feel, and what action you would like them to take after they have heard you speak. What is the emotion your speech would make them feel: happy, sad, energized, inspired? What action does your speech would propel them to do after you finish your presentation: buying your service, supporting your foundation, or changing their behaviors? You need to think about this before you go on stage. But what if you just do not have the time to prepare for hours? If you do not have the time you have 2 options. The first option is to politely decline the speaking opportunity, or the second (mostly preferred) option is to quickly go through the process in your head and ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the one sentence I would like them to remember?
- What action would you like them to take after the performance?
- How do they need to feel and what do they need to know?
As you start sweating, you feel your muscles tighten up, your legs are cramping or your throat is choking. This is what happens when you are put in front of a room full of audience or a camera. All these are signs that you are not relaxed, that your amygdalae is activated, and ready for the fight-flight-or-freeze response. Every new actor has struggled to stay relaxed.
“There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. The Liars.” – Mark Twain
How then does one relax? One popular way for actors in learning to practice their trade is to employ the Stanislavski method. The outstanding Russian actor Stanislavski believed that in order to stay relaxed actor must direct their attention completely on the task in the given scene. It’s about transforming the tension and fear into energy and excitement. Because it is impossible to completely remove the muscular tension. If you try to relax your legs, tension moves to your shoulders, and you shake it off your shoulders, it might go to your back. There will always be tension. But it is actors job to keep the tension under control and not allow it show it in his or her performance. You can greatly decrease your anxiety with some relaxation techniques or some simple respiration exercises. For example, just standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back, putting your feet firm on the ground, and opening up your chest, will already help you in decreasing your anxiety. Other techniques commonly used are breathing techniques such as the 4/4/4 technique, where you breath in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds. You can find many examples of relaxations techniques when you do some research on internet. Find out which one works best for you.
- Bring yourself
“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” – John Ford
Authenticity is key. As an actor and presenter you have to bring your self, your whole authentic self to the performance. Your authentic self includes the way you move your body, the way you speak, the way you interact with the audience. When actors are asked to play role of a person that is totally different from themselves, they need tolearn how to get a genuine feel for what that character seeks to achieve, or as they say, trying to ‘crawl under the skin of that new person’. As a presenter you do not need to crawl into the skin of any person. Just be completely yourself.But what you do need to do is think about the message you are aiming to deliver. If you would like your audience to connect with you message, you need to make sure that the way you deliver the message is completely aligned with who you are. Don’t play a role. For example, would you use a ‘story telling’ voice if you were trying to convince your friends? Of course not, it probably does not sound genuine at all! How would your body move when you would tell the story in a comfortable environment? How high or low would your voice be? How fast would you be speaking? Think about these questions before you deliver your next presentation or speech.
Last but not least, embrace the applause and confidently walk off the stage. Be proud of yourself for being the real authentic you.
Enjoy your next performance and don’t forget to smile 🙂.