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Jan 17

Speakers – Embrace your Inner Actor!

Here’s something that’s been floating around in the back of my head for a number of months. When you get up and present are you acting? You might think that you’re not. But I’d suggest that if you’re not using acting and theatre techniques when you present, then you’re seriously missing out on taking your presentation skills to the next level.

This has been lingering with me since I entered the International Speech contest back in March 2008. In that speech, a version of which is viewable here, I briefly mention my background as an actor. For some reason this was an issue for some of the Toastmasters who were watching and it has continued to be an issue for Toastmasters who have seen it since.

Some peeps have said they feel that me being an actor is cheating somehow. That somehow, because I have tonnes of stage time earned elsewhere away from Toasties and the speaking platform that I’m somehow unworthy, or I have short-circuited the system because I wasn’t lacking in confidence when I did my Ice Breaker speech. Others have suggested that actors are dishonest and should be bracketed with lawyers and accountants. Nice. Good to know they’re supportive.

Once upon a time actors were branded as being rogues and vagabonds. But that was in the 1660s. These days actors are looked upon a bit better than that… But only a little.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. We don’t bite… often.

The thing is a lot of the really great presenters and speakers tap into the world of acting. They easily harness the techniques and bring in an element of theatricality, whether consciously or unconsciously, when they speak. People like Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Darren LaCroix, Barack Obama…  and that’s just of the top of my head.

The danger is when speakers think that they’re actors. There is a difference. You can’t just attend some acting classes and call yourself an actor. It’s a whole other outlook entirely. I feel that the best acting involves you pretending to be someone else. Whereas, the best speaking involves you becoming the best version of you.

Here’s what I mean – we don’t want to see the real you. The pauses for thought, the hesitations, the reiterations, the slurred or stumbled word. We want all that edited out. So you’re presenting an edited and slightly heightened version of yourself. You’re performing.

You plus a bunch of people watching you is theatre, no matter how much you want to get away from that. The same as watching a sporting event like football (soccer to my American readers) has an element of ancient Greek Theatre to it.

So how do you embrace theatricality in your next presentation? Well, it depends upon when it is, if you have more time then you can do more. But…

1. A Class. You can take a basic acting or improvisation class in your area. This will get you loosened up and thinking about what you do in a different way. Plus, it will give you another stage time opportunity.

2. The Internet. You can surf YouTube for clips of some of the speakers I mentioned above and make notes of what they do differently to you. Is there anyway that you can incorporate any of those elements?

3. Storytelling. We’re often told that we should muse more stories in our presentations. If you think about it what do we do when we recount a story to a friend? We often act it out don’t we? We take on the persona, or voice or mannerism of one of the characters in the story (boss, partner, etc) and re-enact the joke or incident. So that’s something that we need to think about for our presentations. Those little moments are real and interesting and certainly something that we should bear in mind.

4. Technical. What about other areas such as using a piece of music to open your presentation (making sure that it relates to your topic would be preferable)? Or is there anyway that you might be able to adjust the lighting and add a gel to get a different colour effect in there? Or even just using audience music, that the audience listens to as they come in and take their seats.

Next time you have a presentation to do, have you considered the acting elements?

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  1. Speakers - Embrace your Inner Actor! « Gilbert Toastmasters

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