Act Up Or Sit Down!

by drjim on November 3, 2009

If You Aren't Acting While You Are Speaking, Then Sit Down

If You Aren’t Acting While You Are Speaking, Then Sit Down

When I come to hear you speak, no matter if it’s at a departmental project status report or at a local restaurant or even if it was at a convention, the worst thing that you can do is to waste my time. What are you going to do about this?

Why So Many Speakers Suck

Let’s be frank here – most speakers that you listen to really aren’t that good. In fact, the ones that we think are good may not really be all that good – they may just be better than the ones who are really bad! What’s going on here? It’s actually pretty simple, most speakers are boring. Who wants to listen to that?

All too often a speaker will focus exclusively on what they are going to be saying and spend little or no time thinking about how they are going to say it.

If you need an analogy to clear things up, this would be like a chef who worries about what ingredients go into a meal without spending any time thinking about how to actually cook the thing. Sure he’ll be able to make something, but it’s not going to taste very good.

Fixing The Problem Of Your Boring Speeches

You are in a rut. You’ve found a particular speaking style that you believe suits you (that means that it worked once and you’ve stuck with it ever since) and you have become what we all fear the most – a boring speaker. How are we going to fix this problem?

You are going to have to take action. You are going to have to start to experiment with the unknown. You are going to have to step into the world of theater.

Birgit Starmanns has spent time in both the world of speaking as well as the world of theater. She points out that actors spend their time working hard to allow the audience to feel what the actor is currently feeling. In order to make this happen they use six tools:

  • Quotes: quotes are a powerful way to invite someone else into your speech. All too often speakers just stick any old quote into their speech in order to give themselves credibility – don’t do that. Instead, make sure any person that you invite into your speech by using their quote helps to move your speech along and gives you more creditability with your audience.
  • Roles: It’s just you up there and that can get pretty boring for your audience. How about if you stop being you for a bit and turn into someone else? You need to make it very clear to your audience that you are doing this, otherwise they are going to think that you’ve all of a sudden lost it. I’ve used this during internal status reports in order to bring the voice of other departments (e.g. finance) into my presentation.
  • Props: This is one of the simplest things to use, and yet all too few speakers take the time to think about what props would help them get their point across. In the past during presentations to sales teams, I’ve used marketing brochures from their competitors that they instantly recognized in order to drive a point home.
  • Staging: I hate it when a presenter acts like a block of stone and stands in one place during an entire presentation. You’ve got the entire stage / front of the room / etc. – use it! In fact, as you move from section to section in your speech, move to a different spot to speak and your audience will understand that you’ve moved on in the speech.
  • Costumes: Ok, so you’ve got to be careful here depending on your audience, but you should at least consider it for every speech that you give. I’m not talking about a full on Hollywood costume, but rather wearing something that will enhance your message. I’ve used a chef’s hat during a presentation to show that we were “cooking up” some new products to sell – you get the point.
  • Audience Participation: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you? Bringing someone from your audience up on stage during a presentation is a huge risk. However, it’s a great way to capture everyone’s attention – they will all be breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them that got picked. If you are ready to interact well with you victim, I mean volunteer, then your speech definitely won’t be boring.

Final Thoughts

Anyone can give a boring speech – don’t let it be you. You’ve got to realize that no matter the setting in which you’ll be presenting in, be it a boardroom or a convention hall, you are ultimately putting on a performance for your audience.

Not everybody is a born entertainer, but that’s ok. Where you’ll really tick me off is if you don’t at least try. Theater actors have to connect with their audience every time they put on a show. In order to do this they pull out all of the stops and use every device that they have available to them in order to make their performance unforgettable.

You need to learn from them, research their techniques, and then apply them to your next speech where appropriate. You may not turn into the next Robert De Niro or Glenn Close, but that doesn’t matter. You won’t be giving boring speeches anymore and that’s all that matters…!

What’s the one thing that you can do to make your next speech unforgettable?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Bored audiences will get up and walk out of your speeches. How would you keep the attention of 400+ engineers who were attending an industry dinner event that they didn’t really want to be at on a weekday evening? I recently had the opportunity to be the master of ceremonies at such an event – great gig, tough crowd.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gene G November 17, 2009 at 7:08 pm

I agree with many of your points. However, not on acting.

Acting is quite the opposite of speaking well. Acting is performing. It is the opposite of communicating. Communicating is not an act, it is an exchange in real time. Acting is a one way exchange and can be quite the same whether there is an audience present or not.

Performing is not communicating.

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Dr. Jim Anderson December 3, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Gene: Hmm, I thing that we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Where I think that we’re taking different paths is that I believe that communicating really needs to be judged by it’s results — does your audience “get” what you were talking about? I’ve seen a lot of public speakers who just talked and talked and nobody paid any attention to them. That’s not communicating. I’ve also seen highly animated public speakers who drew their audience in with their performance and caused them to listen and learn. I think that acting is really a tool that can turn a speech in to a true communication. What do you think?

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